New festival director seeks a larger audience for Maggie Valley

The hunt for a festival director for Maggie Valley is officially over.

Beating out 22 other applicants, Audrey Hager took over the position in mid-December.

With Hager at the helm of the town’s struggling festival grounds, Maggie Valley is hoping to break its cycle of fleeting festival directors, who failed to bring lasting success to the venue.

Taxpayers subsidized roughly half of the festival grounds’ $1 million cost, aiming to reap a windfall from tourism business brought in by events held there.

When the last festival director, who lasted a mere three months, was fired in May, the town decided to hold off on filling the position to see if events still materialized.

The laissez-faire attitude garnered criticism from many business owners who rely on special events to bring tourists and customers to their doors.

Town Manager Tim Barth said the process wasn’t unnecessarily delayed since the town wanted to be careful with its next pick.

“We wanted to get somebody on as quickly as we could,” said Barth, who hopes Hager will line up events for those weekends that are still freed up for next summer.

Hager said while she’s heard a lot of negativity about the festival grounds, she wants to play a positive role in Maggie Valley. Hager had nothing critical to say about her predecessor.

“I’m not here to sling mud,” said Hager. “All I can say is he’s he, and I’m me ... maybe it wasn’t the right fit, but now they have the right fit.”

Hager hopes to not only line up events for some of the gaps in next summer’s festival season but to also pursue a long-term strategy.

“Trying to fill in holes for the calendar for this year [and] trying to plant seeds and develop events for 2010, 2011, 2012,” said Hager.

Hager’s extensive experience in lining up entertainment will certainly assist the endeavor.

She has helped promote nearly every kind of event, including celebrity golf, 6,000-seat concerts, fishing tournaments, hunting events, car giveaways, sock hops, old car shows, billiard tournaments, live boxing, tough man contests, mixed martial arts, and downhill skiing events in Tahoe.

“I’ve probably done 300 events a year,” said Hager, who has collaborated with musicians like the Doobie Brothers, Rick Springfield and Alice Cooper.

Her most recent position was entertainment manager at Harrah’s in southern Indiana.

Hager said she plans to use the connections she already has to line up events in Maggie Valley

Last week, Hager made contact with a friend who organizes such mega events as Lollapalooza and the Austin City Limits festival, who got her in touch with the organizer for MerleFest in Wilkesboro.

Hager said it’s relationships like that that will give her an in with the promoter crowd in the Southeast.

In the near future, Hager would like to organize a fam, or familiarity tour, to bring corporate meeting planners and other promoters to Maggie to see the venue.

Hager will also help the town get its promotional DVD together, making sure it’s properly geared to a promoter audience.

Changing focus

Hager said her priority is to bring business to the town through the festival grounds but to do that, she must first lay a foundation by getting the word out to promoters.

She would like to get Maggie Valley featured in trade magazines dedicated to promoting festivals and special events, as well as on the Web.

In the future, Hager would like to pursue a signature event for Maggie Valley, similar to Folkmoot in Waynesville, Bel Chere in Asheville, and Merlefest in Wilkesboro.

“We could work with Asheville so we’re not competing directly with Asheville, work with Waynesville so it’s not the same time as Folkmoot,” said Hager. “We don’t want to compete with those. We want to support their events, and we want them to support ours as well.”

But unlike previous festival directors, Hager’s priority is not to spend all day brainstorming ideas for events.

“The sky’s the limit on the type of events,” said Hager. “We can have all the ideas for events in the world, but if we don’t have somebody to pay to bring the event to Maggie Valley, then we don’t have an event.”

Instead, Hager said her chief strategy is getting the word out to promoters about Maggie Valley, which she considers Western North Carolina’s best-kept secret.

When Hager’s husband transferred to Harrah’s in Cherokee three years ago, Hager made frequent trips to the area. At that point, she didn’t even realize Maggie Valley was separate from Waynesville.

Hager said she would like to do a better job of letting people know about Maggie Valley, which she said is central, beautiful, and has a lot to offer.

“When I think of this area, I don’t think Maggie Valley. I think Asheville, I think Blue Ridge Parkway,” said Hager. “I think where we missed the boat is letting people know about this location.”

According to Hager, Maggie Valley’s target tourist is an active babyboomer, who enjoys the outdoors and riding motorcycles on the area’s curvy roads.

Part of the process in attracting such a clientele is working closely with business owners. At first, Hagar hoped to go door to door to meet local entrepreneurs, but the town is planning to organize a meet-and-greet with the business community in January.

“I think we can all work together,” said Hager, who would also like to cooperate with venues at Eaglenest, Harrah’s, and the Biltmore Estate.

“I don’t know if they’ll partner with us, but I can certainly try,” said Hager.

Hager was born in New Hampshire, spent 20 years in Lake Tahoe, Calif. and most recently came from southern Illinois, near Louisville.

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