A state grant of more than $50,000 that was announced Tuesday will help create interpretive signs for historic sites in Oak Ridge that are related to the Manhattan Project National Historical Park and improve the waterfront for events such as rowing, cycling, and festivals, officials said.
The $56,250 Tourism Enhancement Grant, part of the third round of grants, was announced Tuesday at the Oak Ridge Municipal Building. A few Oak Ridge officials attended, and so did representatives of the Tennessee Department of Tourism Development and Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.
“Through this grant, the City of Oak Ridge, in partnership with Explore Oak Ridge, will receive funds to support projects that improve some of the city’s key tourist attractions,” a press release said.
Marc DeRose, president of Explore Oak Ridge, said there are two parts to the grant. One is to enhance the city’s component of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. The grant funding could be used to create interpretive signs at historic places like the Guest House and Chapel on the Hill. The interpretive signs will be accessible and include pictures and content, DeRose said.
The Manhattan Project National Historical Park is a unique three-site park that includes Oak Ridge; Hanford, Washington; and Los Alamos, New Mexico. All three sites were involved in the Manhattan Project, a top-secret federal program to build the world’s first atomic weapons during World War II.
The second component of the state grant, DeRose said, will be used for waterfront improvements. They are expected to include an enhanced electrical capability for events such as regattas (rowing races), cycling races, and festivals. There could be more accessible parking, and viewing areas could be enhanced, DeRose said.
Both projects aim to increase the number of visitors to Oak Ridge and create a positive economic impact, the press release said.
“The Manhattan Project National Historical Park and Melton Lake are two major attractions for visitors and residents alike,” DeRose said. “Enhancements to these assets will undoubtedly improve the city’s ability to attract visitors and add to the city’s already exceptional quality of life.”
Explore Oak Ridge and the City of Oak Ridge will provide 50/50 matching funds for the state grant.
Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch said DeRose and City Manager Mark Watson were instrumental in the grant application, which had to be submitted in January.
Tennessee official Amy New said the grants are very competitive and have to enhance the overall community. New is assistant commissioner of community and rural development for the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.
Gooch cited the economic impact of events like regattas, which can attract thousands of rowers and their parents in the spring, summer, and fall, and fill hotels across the county. The economic impact of what is known as the “multiplier effect” is incredible, Gooch said. It’s an economic boon to Oak Ridge and Anderson and Knox counties, the mayor said.
The Manhattan Project signs will help with the new national park, which is still less than three years old.
“This is a real important project for us,” Gooch said.
Other officials agreed about the importance of the relationship between tourism and economic development.
“Tourism is economic development,” said Dave Jones, East Tennessee division manager of Tennessee Tourist Development.
In Tennessee, tourism has been named the second-largest industry, after agriculture.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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