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Town seeks JCTDA funding for Bridge Park project

Plans for the Bridge Park project show a paved parking area and bio retention ponds. Equinox photo Plans for the Bridge Park project show a paved parking area and bio retention ponds. Equinox photo

Without additional funding from the Rural Transformation Grant offered by the North Carolina Department of Commerce, the Town of Sylva plans to put the Bridge Park project temporarily on hold until it can apply for a grant through the Tourism Capital Project Fund.

Planned upgrades to the park include a paved parking lot as well as bioretention areas that would help clean the water and runoff that drain into Scotts Creek. The total cost of the project is estimated at $758,357. In November the town committed $436,290 of American Rescue Plan funds to the project, leaving $340,357 left to be funded. 

“We wanted direction from the board on how to move forward,” Town Manager Paige Dowling said at Sylva’s Jan. 12 meeting. 

Dowling needed to know if the board wanted to use ARPA funds to pay for park upgrades or go after additional funding opportunities. If the board were to use its remaining ARPA funds for the project, that would leave about $100,000 from the one-time pot of money town and county governments received during the COVID-19 Pandemic. 

Commissioner David Nestler suggested applying for money from the Tourism Capital Project Fund available through the Jackson County Tourism Development Authority. Under state legislation, the JCTDA may spend one third of its annual budget on brick-and-mortar capital projects. The Tourism Capital Project Fund’s purpose is to “provide leveraged investment in tourism projects that will increase visitation and attendant spending and overall economic impact for Jackson County.”

This allows a process through which stakeholders in the county can apply for money generated through tourism, by way of a room tax, to fund projects that improve the county for residents and tourists. By funding capital projects, tourism bureaus increase the demand for accommodations, local spending and visitor satisfaction, thereby bringing more money into a county. 

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Applications opened on Jan. 1 with $750,000 of funding available for projects that are owned and operated publicly or by nonprofits; a one-to-one match is required. Eligible projects include new construction, expansion, renovation, maintenance, rehabilitation or a replacement project for an existing facility. The project must have a total cost of at least $25,000 over the life of the project and a useful life of at least 10 years. Another eligible project is the purchase of major equipment costing $25,000 or more with a useful life of at least 10 years. A one-to-one match is required for all projects. 

Previously, the town board had discussed applying for money from the TDA grant to improve the Poteet Park bathrooms. Now, it looks like the town may use the remainder of its ARPA funds for that project. 

“Nick [Breedlove, JCTDA director] felt like the Bridge Park was a really good fit for the grant, because it tied in a lot of elements like fishing and tourism,” said Dowling. “That’s where we have outdoor events and long term it cleans up the creek.”

Applications for the TDA grant opportunity are due June 1 and will go before the county commission for final decision in July or August. This pushes the start date for the Bridge Park project, assuming the town receives necessary funding, to the fall. With the town looking to start work on Allen Street slope repair before spring, that timeline works well. Town staff think it will be feasible to complete the project after the November pottery festival and before Greening Up the Mountains festival in April. 

The decision to apply for a $400,000 grant from the TDA was approved unanimously. 

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