A new, 60-room motel being built along Frontage Road in Columbia County is more than brick and mortar. It's a money machine for the county -- a way to generate tax dollars that can be pumped into tourism and leisure services.
New motels along Interstate 20 in Columbia County have doubled hotel/motel tax collections since 1997. Next year, revenues are expected to top $200,000.
"I believe with the number of events that we host locally -- sporting events, special events -- that we'll be able to help fill those rooms, and we could very easily tap in on $200,000 or greater," said Frank Neal Jr., director of the Columbia County Community Services Division.
T.R. Reddy and Meybohm Construction are building Red Roof Inn & Suites, a 26,000-square-foot motel on Frontage Road near Interstate 20 and Dyess Parkway. They hope it will be ready in time for the Masters Tournament, said Mr. Reddy, who recently built a Best Western motel just around the corner.
"It is a growing area, and they have developed this highway (Dyess Parkway), so the market is good and the future potential is there," Mr. Reddy said.
When completed, the business will employ 15. The tax money it will generate for the county is another economic benefit. The county levies an additional 5 percent sales tax on each hotel and motel bill. The tax is collected specifically to promote tourism.
Two new motels opened in Columbia County in 1998, more than doubling collections from $46,266.05 the previous year to $100,851.60. County officials have collected $136,346.75 for 1999, a figure that is expected to reach $145,000 when 1999 collections are completed, Mr. Neal said.
The increase in tourism dollars will support more activities, he said.
"This change has already allowed that," Mr. Neal said. "Since I've come on board we've done the New Horizons Art Festival, and we are planning to host a Family Fitness Weekend, a big event which will be held at Wildwood Park throughout the Memorial Day weekend. That's an event that will bring national-caliber athletes in here. Events like that would not have been possible before. And it allows us to promote our county with advertising and new materials such as brochures."
The increase in the amount of hotel/motel taxes recently prompted county officials to re-examine how the revenues were spent. Although the contract with the Augusta Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau has expired, the county reached an agreement in July on the agency's funding.
When the county began collecting a hotel/motel tax in 1986, it contributed 100 percent to the Convention & Visitors Bureau. The county decreased that amount to 80 percent in 1998. Under the new agreement, which expires in December, the county will pay 40 percent or $60,000, whichever is greater.
Reach Melissa Hall at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 113.
1999: (collected so far) $136,346.75
Amount paid to Convention & Visitors Bureau
1997: 100 percent
1998: 80 percent, $82,149.79
1999: (paid so far) $54,538.73
Source: Columbia County Finance Office