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First board members selected for Waynesville’s new downtown group

Downtown Waynesville. Downtown Waynesville.

Goodbye, Downtown Waynesville Association. Hello, Downtown Waynesville Advisory Committee.

Months after the DWA lost its biggest and only client — the town of Waynesville — the newly established DWAC that will assume the DWA’s downtown beautification functions finally has a governing board. 

“Over the course of the last several months with some of the things that transpired near the end of the DWA, the possibilities that would be in front of us by going this route became of more and more interest to me,” said Alderman Jon Feichter. “I am all-in on this process and I feel it really gives us the best chance for success moving forward. I do fully expect this new committee will be highly successful.”

Founded in 1985, the DWA had served as the contractual administrator of the Town of Waynesville’s Municipal Service District, which includes properties straddling north and south Main Street. Property owners in the MSD pay an extra tax on their properties –—currently 18 cents per $100 in assessed value — which was used by the DWA to promote revitalization activities. Total yearly expenditures by the DWA were in the neighborhood of $200,000. 

After the DWA went through a period of board mismanagement and decline lasting several years, aldermen refused to renew the DWA’s contract and in September 2021 established  the town-controlled DWAC. 

Since then, former DWA Executive Director Beth Gilmore has been working to shore up the office situation as the new executive director of the DWAC, while awaiting a governing board to give her further direction. 

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On Feb. 8, aldermen gave Gilmore her 13-member board, which was selected by vote from a pool of 21 applicants. 

The four members nominated to represent merchants were Susanne Blumer, Joyce Massie, Jessica Garrick and Robert Williams. Blumer owns Sassafras on Main, Massie owns Green Hill Gallery, Garrick owns The Southern Loft and Williams, a former environmental and urban planner, owns Dillsboro Chocolate Factory on North Main Street. 

Four more members were selected to represent property owners and residents: IT consultant Jeremiah Smith, Axe & Awl co-owner Courtney Tetrault, sixth generation Main Street property owner and renowned landscape architect Thomas Woltz and developer and motel owner Pratik Shah. 

Three at-large members chosen were Jay Spiro, attorney and co-founder of Sylva’s downtown organization, Haywood County Tourism Development Authority Marketing Manager Ashley Rice and Alex McKay, a prominent Haywood County historian. 

Haywood County Community and Economic Development Director David Francis was selected as the county’s representative. 

Feichter, whose parents had a long and extensive history with the DWA, was designated as the town’s representative. 

Once the members were chosen, they were then subjected to a random lottery to serve in three distinct classes so as to establish staggered terms. 

Blumer, Massie and Rice will serve until June 30 of this year. At that point their committee memberships would be up for renomination for three-year terms, and they’d be eligible for renomination should they so seek it and should aldermen agree. 

Spiro, Tetrault, Williams and Woltz will serve until June 30, 2023 and will also be eligible for renomination to three-year terms. 

Garrick, McKay, Smith and Shah will serve until June 30, 2024 and will likewise be eligible for renominations. 

Rather than designate a chair of the committee immediately, aldermen asked the committee to present recommendations at an upcoming meeting. A regular monthly meeting schedule for the DWAC hasn’t yet been set. 

Four standing committees have also been established: mainstreet design, promotions, economic vitality and organization. 

By charter, a two-term limit will be imposed on committee members, although members can be reappointed after taking a one-year hiatus from the committee. If any members from these first three classes are renominated, their time on the inaugural committee will not count towards the term limits. 

Members will automatically be removed from the committee if they miss three consecutive meetings or more than half of the meetings in any calendar year. 

Meanwhile, the old DWA continues to exist as a nonprofit entity, but is struggling to find relevance. Feichter described the organization as “in flux,” and says things are very much up in the air there. 

Feichter was present at a meeting with the DWA a few weeks ago, and told The Smoky Mountain News that the DWA had returned all taxpayer money to the town but still held a chunk of cash that was derived from DWA-administered activities like festivals and brochure sales. 

Artist and gallery owner Teresa Pennington was recently elected chair of the DWA after mass resignations from the board, and Feichter said that Pennington raised the possibility of having the DWA continue to operate one of Waynesville’s biggest, best outdoor fall events — the Church Street Arts and Crafts festival. 

Aware of the time commitments involved with producing a major festival, Feichter is concerned that if the DWA can’t pull it off, it could damage the credibility of the festival, now in its 39th year. 

“My concern is that asking an all-volunteer DWA to put on such a significant event is a huge challenge. Staging something like this takes hundreds of man-hours and it was difficult enough with full-time paid staff people,” Feichter said. “I think it would be awfully hard for a group of volunteers with jobs and families to find the time needed, and if we can’t, we’d risk damaging the festival so badly it might not recover.” 


DWAC members

On Feb. 8, the town of Waynesville Board of Aldermen appointed 13 people to the Downtown Waynesville Advisory Committee, which is the town-administered successor organization to the nonprofit Downtown Waynesville Association. All terms end on July 30 of the year specified in parentheses. 

• Residents and owners — Thomas Woltz (2023), Pratik Shah (2024), Courtney Tetrault (2023), Jeremiah Smith (2024).

• Merchants — Susanne Blumer (2022), Joyce Massie (2022), Jessica Garrick (2024), Robert Williams (2023).

• At large — Alex McKay (2024), Jay Spiro (2023), Ashley Rice (2022).

• Town of Waynesville — Alderman Jon Feichter.

• Haywood County — Community and Economic Development Director David Francis.

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