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Maggie grapples with best way to recruit new festivals

The town of Maggie Valley fired its part-time festival director after he failed to produce results a few months into the job.

The town hoped their new hire, Bill Cody, would lure more festivals to the town-owned festival grounds as a way to bolster Maggie’s tourism economy.

“We anticipated that the position would continue for a while, but it just wasn’t working out,” said Town Manager Tim Barth, who made the decision to terminate Cody two weeks ago.

Events are on tap at the venue on only about half the weekends during this year’s peak tourist season from May to October. The town brought Cody on in February in hopes of ramping up the schedule.

“It was something that we wanted to try to help get more tourism into Maggie,” said Alderman Colin Edwards of the position. “That’s why we hired Bill Cody. We talked about it for months off and on before it ever happened.”

But while Cody pitched several ideas and said he tried to recruit different events, he didn’t attract a single festival in his three and a half months on the job.

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“He mentioned some possibilities, but he didn’t have any specific events that he was able to point to,” Barth said.

Among Cody’s ideas were a bluegrass festival, a Popcorn Sutton Day, and a storytelling festival.

Cody told the town’s Parks, Recreation, and Festival Advisory Committee that he wanted to add two to three new events to the Festival Grounds by 2010. He wasn’t in favor of one-day events, arguing that they didn’t encourage visitors to stay overnight and support local restaurants and motels. Cody also wanted to develop a DVD promotional packet to distribute to promoters, but never started the project.

Edwards doesn’t believe Cody necessarily failed to do his job, but rather, that he was put into a tight spot due to the difficulty of recruiting festivals in the current economy.

“I feel like it was a no-win situation,” Edwards said. “Everybody wanted results right now, and it takes a while to get new festivals.”

The cost of renting the Festival Grounds presented somewhat of an obstacle in marketing them. Renting the Grounds costs $1,500 for three days, including a $1,000 deposit, and additional fees of $250 per day for stage, water and electric.

Cody tried to lure one event sponsor back who cancelled a mini-truck show scheduled for May. The sponsor said he felt the extra fees were, “ridiculous.”

Cody told the Parks, Recreation and Festival Advisory Committee that it posed slight problem telling promoters that the rental fee is $1,500, then continuing to tack on charges.

Maggie Valley will likely hire a new festival director. Cody’s salary, equivalent to about $750 per week, was paid by tourism revenue, namely a 1 percent tax on overnight lodging earmarked for tourism initiatives in Maggie.

“I think that the town is going to continue the position, but I think that we’re going to sit down and talk about it probably after we have a chance to get through the budget,” said Barth.

The town is currently finalizing its budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1.

Edwards said he thinks the town’s first attempt at hiring the position was a learning experience.

“I think it’s a position that the town could benefit from having,” Edwards said. “We’re just going to have to rethink everything and I believe we need to set goals for a festival director.”

This isn’t the first time the Festival Grounds has had a person to promote it paid with money from the room tax. The Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce had a festival coordinator until recently. With the Chamber cutting back on the number of events it puts on, such as the BBQ Festival and the Trout Festival, there was no longer a point in having the position, said Jena Sowers, manager of the Maggie Valley Visitors Center.

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