Tourism tax incentives approved by governor

Law might help commercial aviation museum

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle (left) and state legislators stand by Gov. Nathan Deal as he signs into law a bill that creates tax exemptions for major tourism construction projects Monday at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle (left) and state legislators stand by Gov. Nathan Deal as he signs into law a bill that creates tax exemptions for major tourism construction projects Monday at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton.

— Gov. Nathan Deal made it known to Atlanta Motor Speedway officials Monday that he wants to see them go back to hosting two NASCAR races annually.

And he went to the speedway with a carrot to dangle in front of Speedway Motorsports Chief Executive Officer Bruton Smith and AMS President Ed Clark.

Deal used the Hampton racetrack as the backdrop as he signed into law legislation that creates a tax exemption to encourage investors to build new large-scale tourism attractions or expand any of the state’s major attractions — including Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The racetrack held two NASCAR races a year until 2011 when it lost its spring race to another Speedway Motorsports-owned track.

“Let me be so bold as to say that I hope this legislation encourages the Atlanta Motor Speedway to bring more races to Georgia,” said Deal to the applause of about 50 attendees of the bill signing.

The legislation, known as House Bill 318, requires investors to invest at least $1 million in capital into their respective tourism projects to qualify for the exemption.

Smaller-scale tourist attractions would therefore not qualify for the exemption, Deal said.

There are other stipulations on the exemptions. For one, the attractions must draw at least 25 percent of their visitors from outside Georgia by its third year. Deal added planned new tourist attractions also can’t directly compete with existing attractions.

In return, the attractions are allowed to keep part of the state sales tax proceeds they generate for up to 10 years.

There is at least one tourist attraction in Clayton County that could benefit from the new incentives.

The county’s economic development director, Grant Wainscott, said the National Museum of Commercial Aviation might qualify for a tax break, although he has to check to see if it qualifies.

The Forest Park-based museum, of which Wainscott is also executive director, is planning to build a new facility in the coming months near Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

It is one of several entertainment projects the county’s economic development department is working on setting up in the Mountain View area.

“It’s one of a number of financing and incentive programs that we’re looking into to make not only the museum, but other projects in Clayton County happen,” Wainscott said. “The museum’s certainly going to be a great addition, but we hope to have a greater diversity of tourism attractions and entertainment venues as we go forward.”

Tourism is considered big business in Georgia. It also provides about 400,000 jobs in Georgia — about 10.3 percent of the state’s total work force — making it the state’s second largest industry, said Deal.

The governor said tourism also has a total economic impact of $49 billion on communities across the state.

“This is a major segment of our economy,” Deal said. “It’s always been a segment of our economy but it’s a growing one that we want to encourage.”

State economic development Commissioner Chris Cummiskey said it also generates $2.6 billion in local and state tax revenues.

“Tourism is huge in this state,” said Cummiskey. “Sometimes it gets overlooked in the media about new projects and business recruitment in the state, but tourism is the best return on our investment. People come to this state, they leave their money and they’re taking something away with them.”

The commissioner also said the new law will be a “transformative” economic development engine for Georgia. New attractions will create a domino effect that spurs additional development in their surrounding areas, he explained.

“It’s going to drive more growth, it’s going to drive more hotels, it’s going to drive more restaurants and it’s going to drive more jobs,” Cummiskey said.

Wainscott said the tax exemptions could be a boon for Georgia’s tourism industry, much like the filming tax incentives which have led to more movies and television shows being produced in the state.

“Just like the film industry tax credits, we’re a firm believer that incentives and tax credits work,” Wainscott said. “There are a number of large-scale projects in Georgia that have been talked about for a number of years and I’m hopeful that this is another incentive that can be put in the toolbox to help close some of these deals.

“What’s good for Georgia is good for Clayton County,” he added.