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Bible Park's economic impact unclear

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Dollywood generates a huge amount of sales tax.
When it comes to paying taxes, Dollywood and Splash Country in Sevier County pay more than any other tourist attraction in the state of Tennessee, a Dollywood spokesman said.

Dollywood draws between 2.4 and 2.5 million visitors annually while Splash Country attracts between 400,000 and 500,000 visitors annually, said Dollywood's public relations manager Pete Owens.

In comparison, a proposed Bible park for Rutherford County is expected to draw about 800,000 to 1 million visitors annually.

Rutherford County Mayor Ernest Burgess said if the Bible park locates in the county, the county will receive all of the local option sales tax from the attraction.

"Although it's yet to be determined, it's probable it could be in the county," Burgess said last week. After the basic services such as roads and water, Burgess doesn't believe the park will require many county services.

The impact of Dollywood and other tourist attractions in Sevier County, located near Knoxville in upper East Tennessee, shows the county collected $59 million in sales taxes in 2006, the County Technical Advisory Services reported. Sevier County's population is 80,000.

In comparison, Rutherford County with a population of 218,000 collected $8 million more or $67 million in sales taxes in 2006, CTAS reported.

Due to the unusually large sales tax collections for tourism, residents in Sevier County pay $1.34 per $100 of assessed value for property taxes while residents in Rutherford County pay $2.35, CTAS reported.

Status of the project

President Steve Benefield of the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce said developers of the proposed Bible park are determining the next steps. They plan to meet with the chamber and community leaders to "help us understand what's going to be required on our end."

The park will need roads, water and sewer at the site and a tourism zone approval by the state.
If constructed in the county, the park is expected to bring visitors from the U.S. and all over the world who will generate sales tax revenues at the park, hotels and motels and related business owners.

"I think at the end of the day we have to consider all potential avenues in order to make this project viable for the community and for the investment company that's going to be owning it," Benefield said.

Leaders of the state, county and chamber must weigh if the potential revenues from a park will balance the incentives needed.

"For example, if the industrial board does have to consider an incentive for this operation, it will be up to the county leadership to document the exact return on investments that can be returned to the community," Benefield explained.

Exact numbers are being detailed now and will be presented to leaders within a few weeks to make a decision.

Benefield has received extremely positive comments from the business community whose members believe they will benefit from a theme park project.

"The biggest thing we have to do is gather information for a final presentation," Benefield said.

Lisa Marchesoni may be reached at 869-0814 or at lmarchesoni@murfreesboropost.com.

Read more from:
Bible Park, Bible Park USA, Dollywood, holyland, Murfreesboro
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Members Opinions:
April 23, 2007 at 12:00am
I live in the Blackman area and I would support the Bible Park. I understand there are legal issues to comply with and the leaders we've placed in position to do what's best for our communities should do the right thing for the people. Just as they swore before God taking the office and duties, they need to continue seeking God for guidance and be honest with the people in their district. And we don't need a satan park, he already has one based on some of the comments made.
April 23, 2007 at 12:00am
They could put the Satan Park right across the highway from Bible Park..now THAT would be cool!

41 could represent purgatory!
April 23, 2007 at 12:00am
The Blackman community is on a city annexation fast track. Anyone believing, including the county mayor, this park, if built, or anything being built in that area, for that matter, will not be annexed into the city, leaving the county high and dry is simply in denial of the inevitable.

Now, if we were Metro, these tax problems would not exist.
April 25, 2007 at 12:00am
"Due to the unusually large sales tax collections for tourism, residents in Sevier County pay $1.34 per $100 of assessed value for property taxes while residents in Rutherford County pay $2.35, CTAS reported."

Either CTAS or the reporter left out the fact that the cities in Sevier County get a special cut of state sales taxes beyond what any other cities in the state get. It's called the 'Premier Type Tourist Resort distribution', and only they qualify. Other cities get a cut based on population and end up w/far, far less.

That state-shared tax advantage has much more to do w/Sevier County's low property tax rate than their own sales tax collections do.
April 25, 2007 at 12:00am
And here's my general rant about this whole thing:

re "The park will need roads, water and sewer at the site and a tourism zone approval by the state."

A tourism zone? What EXACTLY does that mean? Another boondoggle of private profits financed by taxpayers' dollars? The law on tourist development zones, to date, has been used to finance--with public funds--two convention centers [Chattanoog and Memphis] and a central business district improvement project [Sevierville]. Never a theme park.

It won't work because there's nothing else big to attract tourists and this is too narrowly focused to bring a million of them in. And when it goes belly up, county taxpayers [that's us] will be left holding the bag because the COUNTY Industrial Development Board will OWN the property and the COUNTY government will issue the bonds to buy it, and the COUNTY taxpayers [that's us] will have to pay them back. Annexation won't have a thing to do with that.

If the county owns it--and it will--the property will generate ZERO property tax dollars for the county. And if a tourism zone is approved, whatever sales taxes this thing generates will go to pay the bonds. If we're real, real lucky, it will be a wash, but I still say it will go belly up and the county will be left holding the bag . . . a big bag of debt. The schools will get ZIP, maybe less than zip.

Folks, this is not going to be a good deal. Sometimes we act like beggars, as in beggars can't be choosers. It's pitiful. I hope I'm wrong.
April 25, 2007 at 12:00am
Here's a link to the state tourism development law. http://tennessee.gov/sos/acts/100/pub/PUBC1055.htm
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