JAMESTOWN -When it was first being pitched to both public and private investors, officials behind the National Comedy Center had said that the facility would serve as a catalyst for local economic prosperity, bringing more than 110,000 visitors through its doors each year and also providing an annual $23 million boost to the local economy.
On Aug. 1, 2018 the $50 million, 37,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art facility opened to the public and since then the community has been interested in learning more about how many people have passed through the doors, along with the impact it’s had on the local economy.
This weekend the NCC put out a media release providing some details. The release stated that the NCC has welcomed 66,044 visitors since opening more than 15 months ago, “placing it on track with pre-launch attendance projections and delivering significant economic impact to Western New York.”
NCC POINTS TO RECENT DATA AS EVIDENCE OF ECONOMIC IMPACT
The NCC said it used reports from Chautauqua County and the City of Jamestown to illustrate the economic impact the facility has had on the region, with recent data showing that county lodging revenue and city sales tax revenue have reached all-time record highs in 2019.
While specific numbers or sources were not provided for lodging, the NCC said short-term lodging revenue for quarters 1, 2 and 3 in 2019 were the highest respective quarters in Chautauqua County’s history, with the third quarter becoming the biggest quarter ever.
WRFA has reached out to county officials for occupancy tax data to better illustrate the claims by the NCC and once that information is provided we will provide more details on that issue.
Meanwhile, the NCC also pointed to recent reports that city of Jamestown sales tax revenue in 2019 is the highest in Jamestown history, with the third quarter reaching an all-time high.
“This is all working extremely well and driving a real and lasting impact on our local economy,” Project Chairman Tom Benson is quoted as saying in the media release. “We’re already seeing it pay out in sales tax revenue and hotel occupancy, and we are extremely optimistic about Year 2 and beyond.”
JAMESTOWN, COUNTY SALES TAX REVENUES FOLLOW STATEWIDE PATTERN
While there is little doubt the NCC has contributed to the upswing in the local economy, it’s worth noting that when it comes to local sales tax revenues the local trend in growth follows an almost identical pattern seen across the entire region and state.
According the State Comptroller’s recent report on 3rd Quarter Local Sales Tax revenues for 2019, there’s a couple of primary factors driving the recent sales tax boom state-wide, and those factors have also likely contributed locally.
Local Sales Tax Numbers vs Statewide Numbers
Local sales tax revenue for Jamestown is approaching an all-time high for 2019. Through the first three quarters of the year, sales tax revenue for the city is $5,052,000. That’s 3.8% higher than the same time period from a year ago. In addition, the revenue for just the 3rd quarter of this year (July through September) is over $1,972,000 million – up 6.3% from a year ago. If the latest data is any indication it’s likely that local sales tax revenue for Jamestown will reach or exceed $6.7 million by year’s end.
But it’s worth noting that Jamestown’s sales tax revenue isn’t an indicator of the exact amount of sales tax that is collected within the city. Instead, it is derived from a formula that is applied to the total local sales tax collected from throughout Chautauqua County and then redistributed to each municipality, based on population. As a result, Jamestown receives about 9.5% of the total local sales tax collected trough out the county. So the sales tax trends seen in Jamestown are exactly the same as the sales tax trends that have taken place across all of Chautauqua County (see below chart).
As the above data shows, local sales tax revenue hasn’t only seen positive growth in Chautauqua County for 2019. It’s also seen near-identical growth across all of New York State. According to the recent report from the state comptroller’s office, state-wide sales tax collections from January through September totaled $13.5 billion, an increase of 4.3 percent over last year. That’s 0.5% better than what is being seen in Chautauqua County. As for the 3rd quarter specifically, sales tax collections in New York state totaled $4.8 billion, an increase of 6.3 percent from last year – which is the same increase witnessed in Chautauqua County.
Sales Tax revenue trends locally also follow the regional trend, with the entire Western New York Region (Erie, Niagara, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Allegany Counties) seeing growth. Sales tax revenue across Western New York for the third quarter of this year was up 6.2% compared to the previous year and for the year-to-date it is up 3.4%.
REASONS FOR SALES TAX GROWTH
According to the State Comptroller, there are several factors that have contributed to the state-wide increase. “Additional internet sales tax revenue may be a contributing factor, along with the continued rise in consumer spending and wages,” Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is quoted as saying.
The report noted that in June of 2019, a new requirement that internet marketplace providers collect and remit New York state and local sales taxes on behalf of their out-of-state vendors took effect. Also the state has been slowly rolling out a gradual increase in minimum wage, which economists have said would help to increase the amount of retail sales across the state, spurring sales tax growth.
So while the NCC has likely contributed to the recent uptick in sales tax revenue, the evidence shows that it is certainly not the only contributor.
NCC ATTENDANCE VS PROJECTIONS
When it first opened in 2018, officials with the NCC said it was expected to attract more than 114,000 visitors each year and give a $23 million boost to the local economy annually, while also sparking further economic development and helping to improve the economic environment in the region. Those projections came out of a study conducted by the AECOM consulting firm.
“Significant attendance growth for the National Comedy Center is anticipated for Year 2 and Year 3 based on data trends. World-renowned leisure economics project consultant AECOM has indicated that it typically takes a minimum of three years for destination / drive market attractions such as the National Comedy Center in Jamestown to achieve stabilized projected attendance,” the media release stated.
And the NCC notes that attendance growth continues at a rapid pace for its second year of operation, with August, September and October of 2019 experiencing a 19.75% increase in attendance over those same three months in 2018 – although the specific attendance total for that three-month period was not provided.
“We are very pleased with our attendance to date, which is fully on track to deliver the economic impact projected. Better yet, 85% of our visitors report being ‘likely to return’,” Executive Director Journey Gunderson is quoted as saying.
Other highlights of the NCC’s attendance media release:
- 88.7% of NCC visitors during the past 15 months came from outside Chautauqua County (58,580)
- 11.3% of NCC visitors came from Chautauqua County (7,460)
- 85% of them report they likely to return (56,135)
- 77.6% of visitors eating in local restaurants (51,250)
- 59% of non resident visitors stayed for two or more days in the area (34,560)
- 37.9% of visitors stayed in a hotel, Air BnB or other lodging (25,030)
- 35.24% visited other attractions beyond NCC and Lucy Desi Museum (23,270)
- 226 tour groups have arrived with an average of 33.3 people per group (7,525)
- Visitors came from all 50 states and 18 countries