The town center proposal includes a long list of projects that aim to beautify the town, improve pedestrian and bicycle safety, attract more tourists and slow down traffic on Soco Road. Business owners are most concerned about a piece of the plan that would drastically change a quarter-mile of the roadway from the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds to Evans Cove Road.
Instead of a four-lane highway, the quarter-mile of Soco Road would be widened and a large grassy median with trees and benches would be placed in the middle. There would still be two lanes of traffic on either side of the median, but reverse-angle parking would be added on both the right and left-hand sides of the median.
Businesses located in that quarter-mile stretch — all the Market Square shops, Guayabitos Mexican Restaurant, Cabbage Rose Gifts and Cataloochee Ski & Sports — would essentially lose their parking lots to accommodate the reverse-angle street parking.
“I’m all for making Maggie Valley better, but it doesn’t have to be something this huge,” said Barbara Tyson, owner of Aunt Bee’s Blessing Shop in Market Square. “This plan would tear up all our parking lots and replace it with street parking.”
When she was looking for the perfect place to open her business in the valley 25 years ago, Tyson said she chose Market Square because of the convenient parking lot. She said taking that away would have a negative impact on her business. The parking lot has about 80 shared spots. According to the plan, there would be about 90 reverse-angle spots, but they would have to be shared by businesses on both sides of the street.
“It’s not safe and it will devalue our property,” she said. “If I didn’t own the building, I wouldn’t be fighting so hard against this plan, but I’m not ready to move on yet.”
Jackie Bradburn, owner of Apple Andy’s Restaurant in Market Square, rents her building but is still concerned about how the changes to Soco Road will affect the business she’s worked hard to build in the last year. She stuck it out all winter and is now looking forward to a busy summer season. Bradburn is especially worried about how her elderly customers and her delivery trucks can safely access her restaurant if the parking lot disappears.
“I want to beautify the town, but I don’t believe in cutting up the road,” Bradburn said. “I could have opened my restaurant anywhere, but I came to Maggie Valley to make this a success. I don’t want to lose my dream after I’ve worked this hard to make it happen.”
Maggie Valley businesses feel like they have lost a lot of tourism dollars to Cherokee in the last decade, especially since the casino opened. Maggie leadership hopes the town center plan will attract more people to town and get the Cherokee-bound traffic to stop for a day or two in Maggie.
Bradburn understands the desire to slow down traffic so people will stop in Maggie Valley on their way to Cherokee, but she said the split road and reverse-angle parking will only cause confusion and congestion.
“If they bottleneck us and make it an inconvenience to come through town, people will just take the highway to Cherokee,” she said.
Tyson said she would consider shutting down her business or selling it if the town moved forward with the roadway project, while Bradburn said she would look for another location outside the town center.
On the other end of Market Square, Pat Palmiere has owned Tarnished Swan Gift Shop for 26 years. He isn’t for or against the town center plan, but he definitely doesn’t like the idea of losing the parking lot.
“If it will help businesses I’m for it, but the construction alone will probably interfere with the businesses for a long period of time, and that wouldn’t be good financially for us,” he said.
Other business owners are glad to see the town looking at new ideas for improving Maggie Valley’s economy. Chris Chagnon has invested a lot in Maggie Valley in the last few years. As owner of the Maggie Valley Town Center Plaza, he said he’s helped bring 20 businesses into the valley. He also owns Soco Mountain Realty and Christopher’s in the Valley Italian restaurant and owns the building that Apple Andy’s is located in Market Square. Since he has tenants on both sides of the issue, he is hesitant to take a side in the town center debate.
“Anything Maggie Valley can do to improve tourism and life for the locals is a positive thing,” he said.
Dave Angel has also invested in Maggie Valley now as he works to get Elevated Mountain Distillery open this year in the former Carolina Nights dinner theater building. He was one of the few people who spoke in support of the town center plan at the last town meeting.
“I do support most aspects of the conceptual plan. The issues can still be debated,” Angel said. “But, the town manager mentioned at the last town hall meeting key grants that we need to apply for later this summer to reduce cost. We need a master plan approved to enable us to seek those funds while we continue the discussion.”
What do they want?
Tyson said keeping a business open in Maggie Valley has had its ups and downs. Business fell off drastically when the recession hit in 2008, but she said business has been up consistently for the last three years. Every shop in Market Square is actually occupied right now, which is a good sign of the economic turnaround. She doesn’t want to see the town lose that momentum by trying to make a four-lane highway into something it’s not.
But business owners aren’t opposed to everything in the town center plan — they like many of the other infrastructure elements. Palmiere said he likes the idea of the town constructing an ice-skating rink next door to him in the empty lot where Sweet Briar Motel was once located.
Bradburn and Tyson agreed that there were several empty lots in town that could be used for an ice-skating rink, more public bathrooms, a splashpad for kids and a memorial park to honor veterans.
“Anything for the youth would be great and I would love to see us honor our vets,” Bradburn said.
Angel said previous road studies from the N.C. Department of Transportation have shown that 20,000 cars on average enter Maggie Valley from the east near Jonathan Creek on a daily basis. By the time cars reach the proposed downtown, that number decreases to less than 10,000 cars daily.
Many of them are going straight over Soco to the casino. Angel said Maggie needs a plan that attracts more cars further into Maggie Valley.
“We need a plan that encourages visitors to stop and spend time in our stores, restaurants and visiting our attractions — a plan that achieves these goals will need to be bold to generate the positive changes we are looking for economically,” he said. “We need a plan that attracts a greater diversity of tourist. It needs to appeal to both young families and senior citizens. Maggie Valley is beautiful, rich in natural resources, and has a great story to tell. But, we need a plan that highlights our strengths and grows our economy.”
What will the town do?
Tyson took a petition to the last Maggie Valley Board of Aldermen meeting with 300 signatures from people opposing the town center plan, though not all of them were residents or business owners. Her goal is to stop the town from moving forward with the plan before it’s too late.
“They keep saying the plan is only conceptual, but we won’t be able to change it once they approve the plan and start getting grants for it,” Tyson said.
Despite objections from the business community, the town leadership doesn’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The town has already invested $25,000, which paid for the engineering firm that helped put the plan together after gathering input from stakeholders for more than a year. The engineering team presented a list of projects the town could tackle one at a time. The price tag for the entire wish list was $7 million, but the town wants to work toward prioritizing the projects before looking for grant funding.
This is also the towns’ third attempt at creating a comprehensive plan, and aldermen are still hopeful this one can come to fruition instead of collecting dust on the shelf like the Driving Miss Maggie and Moving Maggie Forward plans.
After hearing opposition to the town center plan during an April 11 meeting, Alderman Phillip Wight made a motion to scrap the plan, but the motion died without a second from the other board members. Mayor Saralyn Price was absent from the meeting so Mayor Pro-tem Janet Banks suggested scheduling a special meeting to discuss the subject when Price could attend.
Price said she wants to see as many people involved in the process as possible and will continue to gather feedback from business owners and residents before making any decisions.
“The main goal is to help Maggie Valley and that’s been the main goal all along,” she said. “This plan is not all or nothing — it doesn’t mean the exact plan would be used — it means that it can be changed to help the people, but the main thing is we can apply for money now that we have a plan.”