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Wednesday, 20 June 2012 13:41

Maggie visitor center to be taken over by tourism agency

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Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce will be forced to close its visitor center after its major source of funding has suddenly dried up.

For at least two decades, the Maggie Chamber has relied on a cut of tourism tax dollars from the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority to fund its visitor center operations.

Now, the tourism authority has decided it wants to run its own visitor center in Maggie Valley. It will pull the plug on funding to the Maggie Chamber and open its own visitor center instead.

Since two visitor centers in Maggie would be redundant — and since the Maggie Chamber simply can’t afford to run a visitor center with the financial support of the TDA — it will have to shut its own center down.

It will continue in its capacity as a promotional arm for the town and its business community, but without the visitor center aspect.

“We’ll be only the chamber,” said Teresa Smith, executive director of the Maggie chamber. The chamber will continue to provide information to people who call or stop by its office.

Most of the tourism board members felt that the TDA should manage visitor centers because they pay for them.

“If we are going to be funding visitor centers, we should be operating visitor centers,” said Lynn Collins, executive director of the TDA.

Collins estimated that the first six months of operation will cost nearly $40,000, including start-up costs and possible building upgrades. The annual staffing cost will be between $36,000 and $38,000.

TDA board member Jen Duerr said she does not understand the logic in taking over the visitor center in Maggie because it is an another expense for the agency, adding that it takes away from the saving it will achieve with the closure of the other two centers.

“We are going to save some money,” Duerr said, but not as much.

The sudden loss of longtime visitor center funding played out in a similar fashion last year for the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce.

Last year, the TDA decided to open its own visitor center on Main Street just a couple blocks away from the Haywood Chamber of Commerce’s visitor center.

The tourism agency said it wanted to offer a one-stop site for tourists to find out what to do and see in Haywood County. It also wanted to provide a consistent marketing message to visitor.

Unwilling to keep funding the chamber visitor center two blocks away from its own new visitor center, the TDA pulled the plug on the Haywood Chamber.

Now, the Maggie chamber finds itself in a similar scenario.

It’s not good news for the Maggie Chamber, which benefited from the exposure of running a visitor center. The TDA contribution for the visitor center also helped the chamber offset its own building and office costs.

This year, the Maggie Chamber received $29,600 to defray some of the costs of running a visitor center. The chamber requested $42,000 from the TDA for next year and was poised to receive it. However, the tourism board postponed its approval of the funding and later decided to award the chamber only $21,000 — enough to keep the visitor center operating until December.

After that, the chamber will stop its visitor center operations, which includes two part-time employees and a group of volunteers.

“Right now as it stands, that will just leave me as the only employee of the chamber,” Smith said.

Although the Chamber of Commerce and Maggie visitor center will soon be separate organizations, Collins said the two could still find themselves under one roof, splitting the bills.

“They (the chamber) need to move out of the building that they are currently it,” Collins said, because it has a “serious mold problem” that has affected people’s health.

“They might move in with us,” she said.

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