'I like the diversity,' says Devin Heath, president and chief executive officer of DistiNCtly Fayetteville. 'What impressed me so much is the diversity. There's so much culturally. So many perspectives. We are a menagerie of all kinds of things, cultures, and mindsets. It's refreshing to be around such a melting pot.'


By Bill Kirby Jr. | CityView Senior Columnist

CityView: The Kirby File


There's nothing to do in Fayetteville. 

The new president and chief executive officer for DistiNCtly Fayetteville begs to differ. 

"People don't realize how good we have it here," says Devin Heath, 52, who has been on the job since Dec. 4. 

"This is the 15th city I've lived in, and in all those cities, Fayetteville has a ton of things to do. We have so much for folks to explore."

Particularly, he says, visitors from out of town. 

And our guests are making quite a difference in this community, according to a news release from Visit North Carolina, in conjunction with Tourism Economic, which recently unveiled its latest Economic Impact of Travel on North Carolina counties, including the significant impact of tourism for businesses and residents in Cumberland County. 

The survey reveals $666.7 million in economic impact for Cumberland County, an increase of 9.5% over 2021. Tourism helps create nearly, 4,900 jobs and brings more than $45.5 million alone from travel-related activities. 

Those numbers, according to the survey, resulted in $132.43 in net tax savings per county resident, which is used to help fund public programs for law enforcement, first responders, education, road improvement, and community revitalization projects. 

Cumberland County ranks 12th among the state's 100 counties, according to the release, closely behind Mecklenburg, Buncombe, Wake, Dare, and Durham counties. 

"It's good news," Heath says, "but it gives us lofty goals."

Heath previously was director for Visit Natchez, in Natchez, Mississippi, since 2021 and has 30 years of tourism marketing and hospitality management experience, according to DistiNCtly Fayetteville. He replaced Scott Meszaros, who was interim president and CEO for what was formerly known as the Fayetteville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. 

He may be new to Fayetteville, but Heath likes what he sees so far, with visions of better days ahead when it comes to the economic role of community tourism. 

"I like the diversity," Heath says. "What impressed me so much is the diversity. There's so much culturally. So many perspectives. We are a menagerie of all kinds of things, cultures, and mindsets. It's refreshing to be around such a melting pot."

Devin Heath, CEO & President of Distinctly Fayetteville
Devin Heath outside of Distinctly Fayetteville

'Fayetteville has a ton of things to do,' Devin Heath says. 'We have so much for folks to explore.' | CityView photos by Bill Kirby Jr. 


'You just don't know'

He's taken aback by some of what he has heard from residents. 

"I've heard from folks who don't appreciate what they have here," says Heath, a native of Washington, D.C. "I say, 'You just don't know.'"

He points to Segra Stadium, home of the Fayetteville Woodpeckers, the city's Single A-Minor League baseball team affiliate of the Houston Astros, and where the stadium drew a massive crowd of 6,228 fans on Feb. 4 to see East Carolina defeat the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 7-4, in a battle of highly ranked college rivals. 

The game brought visitors from Greenville and Chapel Hill. They spent their dollars on game tickets, stadium vendors, at restaurants and hotels, and fuel stations for their vehicles. 

"One of the biggest things a tourist does after visiting is they walk away with an impression of Fayetteville," Heath says. "They'll say, 'It was great.' Or talk about how welcoming it was." 

Just a block away from the stadium along downtown Hay Street and Bragg Boulevard is the Airborne & Special Operations Museum. 

"It's one of the top attractions in this state," Heath says. "Arguably, it's one of the top two museums in the state. It gives those who have been a part of the military a sense of pride, because it is celebrated and recognized for the sacrifice they have done. I took a tour. I saw retired military there, and you could see in their sense of pride."

He gives thought toward Haymount, where the N.C. History Center on the Civil War, Emancipation & Reconstruction will be a part of the city landscape at the corner of Arsenal Avenue and Branson Street on property of the Museum of the Cape Fear Historical Complex in the Haymount Historic District. 

"It's going to be the museum for the state, not just Fayetteville," Heath says. "It will add to our marketing arm, and the state will be able to push that as well."

On up Haymount way, you'll find the Cape Fear Regional Theatre that with a remodeling effort will change the face of Haymount Hill. 

"The plans they have for that is going to be phenomenal," Heath says. "It already has amazing productions. It's going to be impressive when it's completed. The whole team over there, they're just dynamos. I've met them. I was so impressed. It's not just the theatre, but the community. You would be surprised how many people spend the night and go to a show."

Nothing to do in Fayetteville?

Devin Heath takes no pause. 

There’s the annual Fayetteville Dogwood Festival heading to Festival Plaza Park and the downtown streets April 26-28 for a 42nd year. The Holly Day Fair is scheduled for a 57th annual return in early November that brings more than 22,000, according to the Junior League of Fayetteville, to celebrate the Christmas holidays.

“I’ve heard it’s one of the biggest festivals in the state,” Heath says about the Dogwood Festival, which draws more than 100,000. “They’ve invited me to some of their meetings.”

No, Mr. Heath, not one of the largest festivals in the state. Make that one of the biggest festivals in the southeast that draws festivalgoers from as far away as South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Georgia.

He mentions the Fayetteville State University Planetarium.

“Apparently, it’s world class,” he says. “Melody Foote is back with us, and has been raving about it. I want to say it’s one of the top in the country.” (Foote is director of marketing for DistiNCtly Fayetteville.)

You can’t talk about tourism without talking the Crown Coliseum that is having a notable run of late with entertainers to include Wanda Sykes scheduled for March 17, Bob Dylan on March 18, Kevin Hart on April 6-7 and John Mellencamp on April 17. It’s home for the Fayetteville Marksmen professional hockey team and the Fayetteville Fury professional soccer team.

The concerts and the sports teams lure locals, but out-of-towners, too, Heath says. They bring with them dollars for lodging, restaurants, shopping, etc.

He would like to see more development near the coliseum — a hotel, more restaurants.

The old theater and arena will give way in 2027 to a $145 million Event Center along Gillespie Street downtown. Heath believes it will do well and enhance downtown.

“I think this community will benefit from it,” he says. “Hopefully, we’ll get a hotel downtown and more restaurants.”

Heath wants to see the community become a sports destination, too.

“We want to get the youth sports,” he says. “We want to get their tournaments here. We are going to work with Fayetteville-Cumberland Parks and Recreation on how to get more youth and amateur sports in Cumberland County.”

That means coaches, young athletes and parents spending extended time and dollars.

“Rather than overnight,” Heath says about visitors who are here for more than a day, “they spend four times as much.”

'The big picture,' and beyond

While the tourism dollars for the county is good news, Heath says, DistiNCtly Fayetteville isn’t resting on its laurels.

“We’re focusing on developing out systems so we can better understand our visitors,” he says. “In the next two months, we’re going to start a strategic plan” with an outside consulting group. “They come in and work with community stakeholders. Stakeholders are anybody who has anything to do with tourism, and it includes residents.”

Seth Benalt is chairman of the DistiNCtly Fayetteville board of directors and general manager for the Crown Complex.

“The board believed that Devin was the right candidate for the job based on his history and experiences in both the Destination Marketing Organization and hospitality industries,” Benalt says. “Devin not only sees the bigger picture when it comes to economic impact and opportunities associated, but we believe that he has the ability to bring together the different community organizations, which will be needed to accomplish reaching some of those goals. Devin showed in his past leadership roles the unique ability to be a unifier, which is something that the DistiNCtly Fayetteville organization truly needed.”

Nothing to do in Fayetteville?

Devin Heath, if you will, begs your pardon.

“Next year, we have the bicentennial of de Lafayette Farewell Tour,” he says about Marquis de Lafayette, the French military officer who became a part of Gen. George Washington’s Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. “We are going to host the anniversary of 200 years when he came here, and this is the first city named after him.”

The repurposed Market House, Heath says, will be a drawing card for tourists, too.

“I have a good friend, Debbie Cosey, who owns Concord Quarters in Natchez, Mississippi,” Heath says of what once was a Civil War slave quarter. “She and her husband rent it as a bed and breakfast and meeting venue. She is Black, and her husband, he is Black. They do more at that venue to tell the whole story of the men and women who worked there. It was the slave quarters. I’m hoping this will be a similar vein, where people will walk away with a concept of what the Market House was.”


Devin Heath brings fresh eyes to this city and county and community, and what it all can be.

“We hope with the right people in the right place, it can grow exponentially,” Heath says. “This could be a world destination, like Nashville, Tennessee, and Charleston, South Carolina, are tourism destinations.”

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961.

CityView is an online news organization dedicated to covering local government, schools, and other issues important to residents in Fayetteville and Cumberland County.

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