Sixty-four jobs, $3.1 million in local sales impact, and a major factor in the decision to locate new businesses here. These are just a few of the highlights from the Camp Jordan Economic Impact Analysis done for the City of East Ridge by Dr. William Legg, a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Economics Professor.
The study which came with a $5,000 price tag was commissioned last year by then-City Manager Andrew Hyatt along with Parks and Recreation Director Stump Martin.
“We are going to use this as a tool,” Martin said. “The study will be shared with business owners and others interested in East Ridge to show them exactly what kind of impact the Park is having on the community.
“If you’re the owner of a hotel chain and you see that 32,000 people spent one night in the area, but only 3,000 of them stayed in East Ridge what will you want to do as a business man? You’re going to want to build a hotel in East Ridge,” Martin explained.
Martin went on to say, “This is what the study is for, and it has already drawn interest from business owners who have seen it or heard about it.”
Dr. Legg, an Adjunct Professor at UTC since 1991, said during a telephone interview with East Ridge News Online that economic impact studies are “estimates based off statistical estimates.” Dr. Legg said that the impact doesn’t necessarily result in a direct measurable effect to city coffers, but intends to measure the impact of new money entering the community which filled the coffers in the first place.
The impact study was based off audited financials provided to Dr. Legg from the city. It was also based on surveys conducted by the Chattanooga Sports Committee of Camp Jordan Park’s impact on the Chattanooga/Hamilton County region, as well as a survey conducted by park personnel.
The conclusions reached by the Camp Jordan Impact Analysis could have problems, however.
The Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) has published a white sheet urging government entities to take caution when reviewing commissioned economic impact studies such as the study done by Dr. Legg on behalf of East Ridge.
“In Tennessee, this type of analysis is done by for-profit businesses and state-funded university research centers to clients willing to pay for the work. None of these entities would likely survive in the for-profit ‘impact analysis’ business for long if they frequently or occasionally released negative impact reports,” the TACIR white sheet states in part.
A review of records by East Ridge News Online shows that the study takes note of the year-over-year increase in hotel/motel taxes which it attributes in large measure to the park. However, the study fails to take into account the fact that City Council voted to double the hotel/motel tax during the years analyzed by the study. Factoring in the increased taxes the value of the rooms subject to tax actually dropped substantially in 2013 and returned to 2012 levels during the 2015 fiscal year.
Another possible distortion in the study includes the fact that several Parks and Recreation Department expenses were moved into other city funds during the 2015 fiscal year. Also, the revenue generated by the East Ridge Fire Department’s Santa Village to benefit the Needy Child Fund was included in the study as park revenue.
“I did the best I could with the data that was available to me” Dr. Legg stated. “I was given their audited numbers. If they were not complete I was unaware of it.”
According to Dr. Legg, the reason for the study was to refute claims being made by a citizen that Camp Jordan was a big money loser. “I was given this data and took it to show that the park was worth having,” he said. “If there was information I did not have and did not show correctly then that would have to be considered and taken into account.
“I’m sure there are some inaccuracies, but the main point of the study is to show there is a social benefit to having the park,” Dr. Legg explained further. “I recognize the study is not perfect. Given the cost and time constraints I had to work with we generated the best data possible. I tried to back that up by looking at the audited financials first.”
Dr. Legg said the data used for the study was “not perfect.” He said that he recommended to administrators of the park that they should systematically collect data on a regular basis about who is using the park, what they are using it for and how many people are are taking advantage of facilities at Camp Jordan. Dr. Legg recommended this kind of business management would allow for a better understanding of park patrons and how it could be improved in the future to maximize revenue.
“They haven’t even been using their own financial reports to conduct their own internal analysis,” Dr. Legg explained. “If you go into the city budget items you will see for instance soccer or baseball and see the expenses toward a sport and the revenue from that sport.
“No one is sitting down and analyzing the changes taking place in cost or revenue and saying ‘this is where we are doing good and this is where we are failing,'” he said. “No one is looking at the data that’s readily available to figure out which activity pays the most or generates the most revenue. This would go a long way to help market the park just like you would any other business.”
Dr. Legg’s assertion is not denied by Parks and Recreation Director Martin.
“That’s something we haven’t been doing and we are working to do more of that,” Martin said. “We are going to be gathering more data when functions begin at the park soon. We will work with the finance department to get the information we need to do that analysis. This will give us a tool to see what our focus needs to be on to maximize the number of people and dollars brought into the park and community.”
Despite the possible inaccuracies within the study, Dr. Legg feels confident that the study clearly shows the impact to the community is greater than the actual cost to taxpayers.
“Even if the multipliers are wrong there is a lot of room to adjust them and the end result will still show an impact greater than the net investment of $584,000 by the city.” Dr. Legg states.
Martin agrees with Dr. Legg. “If you ask any business on Ringgold Road they will tell you they see a direct impact on their bottom line,” he said.
Heather White, the manager of Comfort Inn directly across Ringgold Road from the entrance to the park, said Camp Jordan has a “tremendous impact on our business.”
The 119-room facility underwent a multi-million dollar renovation in 2013 and had a grand opening under the Comfort Inn brand in September of 2014. White said events at Camp Jordan bringing overnight guests to the motel during that first year assured them of success.
“Last year was the first summer we had with events at the park,” White said. “May, June, July and the first couple weeks of August we were sold out because of the softball tournaments there.
“I don’t think there’s anything in this area that brings in business like the park does,” she said.
Wally’s Restaurant, just on the other side of Interstate 75 from the park, has become something of an institution in East Ridge in the 27 years its been open. Owner Glen Meadows has more than two dozen employees who help serve patrons at the 275-seat restaurant. Many of those seats are often filled with people attending events at Camp Jordan.
“It’s easy to tell who is from the park when they have something like Bug-a-Paluza,” Meadows said. “My parking lot is full of VWs.”
Meadows said it’s readily apparent who is from the park when they have various ball tournaments. He said you’ve got mom and dad, and junior is dressed out in his baseball uniform.
He and his staff will get a calendar of events that Camp Jordan posts online and adjust the number of wait staff the restaurant needs to potentially accommodate his customers.
“(Camp Jordan) effects us in a positive way,” Meadows said.
Meadows is also the father of an athlete, who travels to tournaments in the region. He said travel ball “is a big, big business.”
“When we go to big ball tournaments the parents lay out some big bucks,” Meadows said.
He said his family often visits attractions and does some shopping in the area in between attending ball games. Meadows said the opening of Bass Pro this summer would be one of those places he would go if he were from out of town attending an event in East Ridge.
Direct Martin shares Meadows’ enthusiasm for the new retail development that is taking shape just outside the borders of Camp Jordan.
“This is the best part and really says it all.” Martin said while pointing to a highlighted section of the Impact Study in his hands.
The section reads _ On their website, the developer of Jordan Crossing had the following written to describe the development: “Jordan Crossing in a Bass Pro Shops anchored retail development located on Exit one of Interstate 75 at the East Ridge Exit. Boasting the highest traffic counts in the Metropolitan area, this 50-Acre Project will consist of retail, restaurants, and hotels all while positioned at the entrance to one of the largest recreation parks in Tennessee.” (emphasis added)