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Maggie pins hopes on director to turn corner on festival grounds

The Town of Maggie Valley is moving closer toward hiring a festival director to market its struggling festival grounds. Aldermen decided last Thursday to appoint a six-member selection committee to help sort through job applications and choose the most qualified candidate. The ultimate decision, however, will rest with the board.

Each alderman will recommend two or three people to the board at its next meeting on Oct. 15.

“We’ve certainly heard from more than six or seven people about their two cents,” said Alderman Mark DeMeola, who said he would like the community to become involved in a “positive fashion.”

Maggie Valley’s new hire will hopefully draw new festivals to the venue, which in turn will entice tourists to town, and consequently, support local businesses. But some aldermen said even a festival director might not be able to save the festival grounds from landing in the red.

More than $1 million has been invested into the festival grounds over seven years, with about half coming from grants and donations. But revenues from groups holding festivals there average only about $11,000 each year, forcing town taxpayers to subsidize the venture.

DeMeola said the festival grounds are more like an “amenity” provided by the town than a profit-making entity. Nevertheless, DeMeola said a feasibility study should be done to gauge exactly how profitable the festival grounds could be.

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At Thursday’s meeting, Alderman Colin Edwards questioned the need to hire a festival director at this point.

“How many weekends have we got for this festival director to fill?” asked Edwards. “Is it worth the bang for the buck to do it?”

At the same time, Edwards said if they were going to fill the position, it “needs to be filled now.”

Meanwhile, Alderman Phil Aldridge is a firm believer that the festival grounds could be profitable if marketed well and is disappointed the town manager has stalled on getting someone hired.

“There’s been little or no activity as far as our town manager to get out here and find somebody. That’s his job. That’s a position that we need,” Aldridge said. “We keep bouncing around with ideas, not ever settling, what [can] people expect?”

The director’s position has been left empty since May when the town fired the last director after only a few months into the job for not producing results.

Town Manager Tim Barth said he had received five applications at the time of the meeting, but there shouldn’t be a rush to fill the position.

“If none of them look like they can do the job, we’ll re-advertise until we get somebody who can do it,” said Barth.

Mayor Roger McElroy said the public should keep in mind that until three or four years ago, the town had not been in the business of promoting tourism, allowing the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce to handle it instead.

“This is a new ballgame for us,” said McElroy. “We’ve never had to do it before. We don’t necessarily want to do it now, but nobody else wants to do it.”

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