Ground broken for SW Virginia arts centerSwell. Something else the taxpayer is going to have to prop up in perpetuity.
By the Associated Press
Abingdon, Va. - Ground has been broken for a $16 million arts center in Abingdon showcasing southwest Virginia's cultural, musical and artisan heritage.
Gov. Timothy M. Kaine says the center, called Heartwood, will be a portal to the region's cultural and heritage attractions, including the Crooked Road and the Artisans Trail of Southwest Virginia.
The 28,000-square-foot facility will include artisan galleries, a food court and an area for musical performances. It's expected to draw 270,000 visitors annually.
The groundbreaking ceremony was held Thursday morning. [link]
But wait, you say. Heartwood is supposed to bring much-needed income to the area. Isn't that a good thing?
If it were true.
And yes, it's promoters say it's true. From Heartwood's website:
The $16 million, 28,000 square foot facility, designed by Spectrum Design in Roanoke, Va., will feature the region’s hand made crafts and displays for artisan trails, cultural tourism initiatives such as the Wilderness Road, and music venues found along The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail.
Large format displays, videos, and interactive maps will showcase the region’s artisans and provide detailed information on travel to the areas various points of interest (including food and lodging). In three years it is expected to bring in at least 270,000 visitors, generate $2.2 million in revenue, and result in a total economic impact of about $28 million to the region. The project has a number of financial sponsors and broad regional support.
I can tell you right now, that $28 million figure is absolute horse shit*, probably dreamt up by the Virginia Tourism Corporation, an organization that has proven in the past to make up wildly exaggerated numbers to suit its constituency. For more on that, go here. And here.
But what of that $2.2 million in revenue? Isn't that a good thing?
First, I woudn't be surprised to find that number to be grossly inflated as well when this white elephant gets off the ground. Such estimates always are. But there's a bigger factor:
Revenue = Cash Flow In.
Cash Flow Out = ?
What's this thing going to cost to keep in operation?
Those who have been promoting Heartwood ask us to look at Tamarack up in Raleigh County, West Virginia as a model for what to expect from Heartwood. Tamarack is, without argument, a popular tourist attraction, drawing an estimated 500,000 visitors a year. Sweet.
But what does Tamarack cost to operate?
W.Va.’s white elephant
AP ignores the $2 million-a-year losses
April Vitello of AP wrote a travel piece about Tamarack, a state-run arts-and-crafts showroom along the West Virginia Turnpike near Beckley. USA Today ran it under the headline: “Tamarack: Unique W.Va. showcase is Appalachian art mecca.”
She wrote: “For 11 years, Tamarack, the state’s one-of-a-kind artisan showcase, has lured travelers ... off Interstates 64 and 77, enticing them with its vaguely crown-like architecture — circular, with red points jutting from the roof. From the air, it resembles a traditional quilting star.
“Thanks in part to location and being open every day but Christmas, Tamarack is one of the most-visited places in West Virginia, averaging 500,000 guests a year.”
She failed to report that Tamarack lost $1,795,374 in 2002; $2,059,303 in 2003; $2,358,361 in 2004; $2,852,646 in 2005 and $2,570,239 in 2006. This year’s estimated losses are just under $2.8 million.
Double-check my math, but I’m pretty sure that at 500,000 visitors a year, that works out to a loss of $5.60 per visitor this year.
The state would be better off posting a guard and paying people $2 a head to just move along, nothing to see here. [link]
Tamarack operates at a loss.
And always will.
West Virginia - through 2007 - pays $5.60 a head for each tourist that stops by.
And Tamarack is touted as the model for Southwest Virginia's Heartwood.
Sigh. Get out your wallets. Another fine mess our government is getting us into.
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* The Virginia Tourism Corporation, in order to come up with the numbers it does, includes revenue at the local McDonald's and employment at the Seven Eleven up the street as "total economic impact to the region." You stay at the Days Inn in Abingdon for a night on your way to Dollywood? Your sixty bucks is considered part of that $28 million, even though you didn't set foot in Heartwood. I've done the research. You run over to Lowe's in Bristol for some sixteen penny nails and stop for gas? Yup, tourism dollars.
Again, see links above.
It's a scam.
** As any of the locals will tell you, Tamarack is not a major tourist destination. It is a nice stopover for travelers on their way north and south along I-77. People stop, eat, and move on. The gift shops do well. The eateries do well. But Beckley sees no significant residual draw from that crowd going to Tamarack.