New projects expected to spark Hawkins tourism revenue growth

Jeff Bobo • Aug 7, 2019 at 8:00 PM

ROGERSVILLE — Hawkins County’s tourism revenue remained stagnant in 2018 compared to the previous year, although there are several tourism-related projects in the works that local officials hope will provide a boost to the local economy in coming years.

Last week the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development released its economic impact statistics for 2018 which showed a 6 percent increase statewide, with tourism revenue totaling $22.02 billion overall.

In contrast, Hawkins County’s tourism revenue increased only 0.03 percent in 2018, from $38.95 million to $39.08 million — or about $130,000.

Tourism revenue across the region

That $39.08 million figure places Hawkins 40th in Tennessee tourism, and only sixth of the eight Upper East Tennessee counties.

Tourism revenue for those counties includes (in millions): Sullivan, $410.06, up from $386.7 in 2017; Washington, $272.55, up from $257.54; Hamblen, $106.65, up from $100.44; Greene, $94.09, up from $91.71; Carter, $40.94, up from $39.47; Unicoi, $9.51, up from $9.27; and Johnson, $10.13, up from $10.09.

Of course Tennessee’s big four counties were also the only four in the billion dollar club including (in billions): Davidson $6.961, up from $6.505; Shelby, $3.652, up from $3.503; Sevier, $2.457, up from $2.276; and Knox, $1.174, up from $1.097.

Where does Hawkins figure come from?

Hawkins County’s $39 million figure may seem inflated, but Rogersville Chamber of Commerce Director Nancy Barker said that it accounts for all of the county’s 2018 retail gasoline sales, as well as food service, entertainment and recreation, and certain retail sales.

Although there wasn’t much growth in 2018, Barker noted that the county’s total tourism revenue has increased in each of the past five years.

Travelers spent $36.89 million in Hawkins County in 2014.

What does that mean to local taxpayers?

According to Tennessee Department of Tourist Development spokesperson Jill Kilgore, Hawkins County’s 2018 tourism revenue resulted in $2.2 million in state tax revenue and $2.1 million in local tax revenue.

Based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest estimates, 2018 tourism revenue saved the average household in Hawkins County $187 in state and local tax revenue, Kilgore added. Broken down, that’s $96 in state tax revenue and $91 in local tax revenue.

Tourism also accounts for 250 jobs in Hawkins County, down from 260 last year, as well as $6.7 million in salaries paid to local residents, which increased by $20,000.

“Tourism revenue is important because we don’t have to pay out a lot,” Barker said. “Folks come through and spend their money and leave. It’s definitely going to be key to the survival of our community in the future, so what we’re trying to do is make the most of the opportunities around us. With the historic significance of our community, these tourism dollars are only going to increase in coming years.”

Barker added, “Our community has a lot of existing programs to attract visitors, and we’re always working on new initiatives. The main thing is that our tourism revenue continues to rise, and we’ve had it going in the right direction for each of the past several years.”

What’s coming up in Rogersville?

One of those existing tourism events referenced by Barker is Rogersville’s monthly classic car Cruise-In, the next of which will take place Friday from 6-9 p.m. It attracts about 125 classic vehicles and hundreds of people to downtown.

Another upcoming event is the third annual downtown Rogersville Bike Night, which is scheduled for Sept. 21, and attracted more than 300 motorcycles to downtown last year.

The main tourism attraction for Rogersville each year is Heritage Days, which draws thousands of people over the course of three days on the second weekend in October.

There are several other tourism improvements or events that are in the works.

Historic building restoration

Tennessee State Historian Dr. Carroll Van West is conducting an architectural and archeological study of two downtown Rogersville buildings including the 1790s Powel Law Office on Washington Street and the 1790s Rogers Tavern on Rogers Street.

The purpose of the studies is to help plan a restoration of both structures to their original appearance, as well as hopefully attract grant funding to help pay for both projects.

The recent discovery of a Lewis and Clark connection to the Rogers Tavern will also contribute to those efforts.

Eventually the city and Rogersville Heritage Association would like to open those restored structures to the public for tours.

A new county fair

Although an official announcement at this time would be premature, there is a planning effort underway to continue the Hawkins County Fair, which was held the past two years at Camp Hope near Church Hill.

Hope Community Church, which launched the County Fair in 2017, was unable to sustain the event. Jake and Wendy Jacobs, who own the 60-acre Amis Mill property near Rogersville, have agreed to host the fair this year, assuming preparations ca be made in time. The theme of the fair is geared toward history.

Revised Rogersville walking tour

Rogersville is the second oldest city in Tennessee and also has one of the best preserved downtown historic districts in the nation.

The RHA has a walking tour map and brochure on its website, but new RHA Director Melissa Nelson hopes to revise and improve that walking tour with updated information and stories, more stops, and more history.

Disk golf tournaments

The new 18-hole disk golf course at the Rogersville City Park was an instant hit, attracting players from across the region on a daily basis.

Barker said the city parks department is investigating the possibility of creating regular disk golf tournaments at the site in hopes of attracting even bigger crowds.

Amis Mill a state park?

Jake and Wendy Jacobs are putting out feelers to gauge interest in converting the Amis Mill Historic Site into a state park along the lines of Sycamore Shoals and David Crockett Birthplace, which have a historic emphasis.

The idea already has the support of West, but it would also require the support of the county commission and state legislators.

Two “destination restaurants”

Local resident have been eagerly awaiting the opening of what Barker describes as two “destination restaurants” in downtown Rogersville: the Red Dog on Main and the Hollywood Hillbilly, which are beside each other on Main Street separated by an alley which has been designated for outdoor dining.