Town plans to capitalize on tourism

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Hillsville leaders believe town has assets that will attract visitors and grow that segment of the economy.

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Hillsville sits at a unique intersection of geography and culture.
The town is at the crossroads of Interstate 77 and four major highways, on the route of major musical destinations along the Crooked Road, just north of the Blue Ridge Parkway, close to the popular New River Trail State Park, so officials hope a new tourism plan mapping out a way to bring in more visitors could help Hillsville’s economy turn a corner in the long run.

Town Manager Travis Jackson recently shared the newly developed strategic tourism plan with the public, a document meant to outline the direction for Hillsville’s economy to benefit more from tourism-related enhancements.
“This tourism plan is going to be a tool…. that will allow us to get state incentives to be able to then provide those incentives to businesses willing to locate within the town corporate limits,” Jackson explained at a September town council meeting.
A public hearing on the creation of tourism zones to assist with economic development has been scheduled at the Hillsville Town Council meeting Oct. 28 at 7 p.m.
Interested citizens attended a full-day planning session to provide input, Jackson added. The town manager requested council members approve the final plan. “That will be our first step into the development of tourism zones.”
According to the plan’s vision statement, the town envisions a community that collaborates with the tourism industry to make the town a “central destination for tourists to experience the town’s rich musical and cultural history/heritage, the growing creative arts scene and natural assets that further develop outdoor recreation.”
Noting that the town already has extraordinary assets and great potential for growth in tourism and recreation, town officials say in the plan that a concerted effort could boost economic development and enhance citizens’ quality of life.
The document recognizes that tourism development takes a sustained effort over the long term, so the plan will provide guidance over time.
The town is surrounded by well-known assets like the Blue Ridge Parkway and other destinations for outdoor enthusiasts, and Hillsville has its own things to offer, from its history to its huge flea market and gun show.
Wineries, orchards, Christmas tree farms, pumpkin fields, trout fishing streams, the Kanawha Valley Arena venue, camping and more attractions draw people to the area.
“It is the authentic music, Hillsville’s small town character, arts, creative economy, culinary and agricultural experiences that define the town and add significant depth of the visitor experience and greater connectivity of these elements will add to destination appeal,” the plan says. “It is the authentic music of HIllsville, as a stand-out asset of the Crooked Road, which differentiates Hillsville from any other destination.”
Hillsville officials would take on several of the responsibilities in order to reach the goals developed in the plan.
Two of the goals involve town officials taking it on themselves to develop tourism zones that would provide incentives to businesses and building the brick-and-mortar tourism offerings in Hillsville.
The action items involving infrastructure improvements in order to make the downtown more of a destination include:
• designate a tourism zone and provide guidelines for recruitment of tourism investment.
• make plans to bring in “unique and family style restaurants.”
• work to recruit places for tourists to visit, such as a general store, art galleries, “winery shops” and evening dining.
• add incentives to bring in “unique or specialty retail shops.”
• work with the Carroll Historical Society “to create activities, events and exhibits” in connection with the 1912 courthouse shoot-out between court and county officials and members of the Allen family “to initiate a larger presence of the story and history of the event.”
• work with shops and attractions to have evening and weekend hours for visitors.
• create an “exciting new tourism attraction” at the Carter Home.
Another of these action items — creating an outdoor stage and restrooms in the parking lot behind the Carter Home — has already begun. The Carroll County Board of Supervisors agreed to transfer that land to the town.
The plan for tourism zones includes finding new funding opportunities for both development and marketing.
“Explore the development of tourism business assistance programs, such as incubators, through local governments, small business administrations and economic development departments, as appropriate, to seek support,” another action item says.
Town officials should review local policies that have to do with visitation and tourism business growth.
“Continue to engage in preservation and sustainability efforts at the local level, regarding historical, cultural and environmental assets, such as the historic Carroll County Courthouse and the Allen tragedy,” another action item said.
The timeline calls for the funding and development plans involving the tourism zones to be completed by 2014 or sooner.
Other elements of the 23-page tourism strategy include:
• improving signs to local attractions and tourism-related businesses like motels and restaurants.
• investigating the possibilities of using billboards to bring in more traffic to the town and the county.
• improving information about the town found on applications such as Google maps and Map Quest.
• more training for employees in tourism-related fields.
• sharing information about events and attractions with stakeholders in order to better cross-promote.
• creating a tourist campaign to be shared in AAA offices in Ohio, parts of Canada, the Carolinas and Florida to capture more of the traffic originating from those places to stay in Hillsville while traveling.
• seeking Virginia Tourism Corporation marketing grants.
At the meeting, Council Member David Young made a motion to approve the tourism plan. Council members unanimously approved the plan after a second from Billy Walls.
With cooperation from the larger community, Jackson believes that tourism could make a significant, continuing impact on the local economy, the town manager told The Gazette after the meeting.
For example, one tour bus with 45 people coming to Hillsville and spending the night in local lodging would mean $6,000 in spending in the community, according to tourism studies. These bus tours have proven very successful in Galax.
Town representatives are working with the Virginia Department of Tourism and the tour bus companies to make that happen. Jackson said that bus companies have requirements in order for communities to be included, and the stakeholders need a strategy to meet those.
Citing the many assets listed by the meeting participants, the town manager noted that there are things to draw people to the area in every season of the year.
“We have so many treasures that can draw people into this community,” he said. “We’ve got to start capitalizing on them... We don’t want to be an addition to the buses that are going to Mount Airy [N.C.] — we want to be the destination.”
That’s where coordination between the different attractions and stakeholders comes in.
“We have to ask the community to come together,” Jackson noted. “The town doesn’t own any of these properties — we have to get buy-in from a larger segment of the community.”