Special project grants awarded by Haywood TDA
Although the indirect benefits of the unprecedented tourism boom that’s enveloped Haywood County over the past few years are readily apparent in the form of increased sales taxes and steady work for hospitality industry professionals, locals are finally about to get something out of it besides soaring housing costs and crowded attractions.
Back in May, TDA Executive Director Lynn Collins told Haywood County commissioners that the TDA had decided to appropriate $500,000 in fund balance towards a “one-time special projects fund” open by application to the five zip codes from which the 4% room occupancy tax is collected.
Unlike the TDA’s 1% fund, the special project grants carry a public benefit by investing in projects that not only serve to maintain or increase “heads in beds” but also demonstrate enhancements in quality of life for permanent residents of Haywood County.
The application period closed on April 29, and nine applications were received, including one each from Canton, Clyde and Maggie Valley, one from the county itself, two from Waynesville and three from Lake Junaluska.
On June 30, the Haywood TDA announced the recipients of those grants; because the funding requests totaled $800,000 not every project could be funded, so there were some winners, and some losers.
Trail system at Haywood Community College
The 2-mile trail system located on the campus of Haywood Community College will nearly double in size, thanks to a TDA special project funding award of $66,088.
When work is completed, hopefully in November, the multi-use natural surface trail will become one of the very few free, family-friendly offerings near Clyde. According to the Town of Clyde’s grant application, it is hoped that the new trail will attract community events and regional or state cross country meets. Another concrete sidewalk will also be added to the trail network to allow for better access to trails from a campus parking lot.
In addition to the potential community and athletic events associated with the trail, the expansion could serve as an important link between several other attractions, like the Hellbender Regional Trail System, Canton’s Chestnut Mountain Park and Lake Junaluska.
Total cost of the project is estimated at $137,000.
Maggie Valley Festival Grounds parking lot
Maggie Valley’s Festival Grounds are booming — making it difficult for some to find parking during the 20 or so events scheduled for the heart of the summertime season.
That should change in pretty short order, after the Haywood TDA granted the town $96,131 toward paving 90 new spots.
In 2021, the town spent $185,000 to acquire a 1-acre parcel directly across Soco Road from the Festival Grounds. It’s being used for parking already, but parking spaces are unmarked and the parcel is sometimes muddy after heavy rains.
The TDA grant will go a long way toward tidying up the situation, but not quite all the way — the town’s request was for $125,000, but the TDA only funded just over 75% of that request.
Initially, the grant application said that there would also be two fast electric vehicle chargers as well as landscaping compliant with the town’s appearance standards, but due to the shortfall, the town will either have to pony up the remaining $29,000 or make some cuts to the $250,000 project.
According to the town’s grant application, groundbreaking and project completion would all take place during the month of August.
Richland Creek Greenway
What a difference a few years make — when the Bi-Lo grocery store on Russ Avenue was in operation, its adjoining parking lot was a constant source of pollution and runoff for an otherwise pristine stretch of Richland Creek.
Now that the Mountain Creek apartments are being constructed the pollution and runoff will be reduced tremendously, and thanks to the Haywood TDA, a 12-foot greenway along the banks will connect Russ Avenue to Marshall Street.
The short stretch is expected to bolster trout fishing in the area and is also a critical segment of the Town of Waynesville’s Greenway plan, which once complete would create a multi-use trail from Lake Junaluska down through Recreation Park into Frog Level and Hazelwood.
The $87,781 grant is less than half of the project’s estimated $175,563 cost. Groundbreaking is expected in the next 90 days, and work should be complete by next July.
Haywood County Bike Park
When it was completed in 2021, Haywood County’s 10-year recreation master plan demonstrated that residents wanted more trails, especially for bicycles.
To that end, the county put forth a $1.9 million project that would turn a former landfill into what’s called a pump track, which is a series of banked turns designed to be ridden without peddling but rather through the up-and-down motion of the rider. Pump tracks are cheap, simple to build and are accessible for riders of all skill levels.
The Haywood TDA grant of $150,000 may seem like a drop in the bucket, but the county has already committed $500,000 toward the project. Both will go a long way in helping the 2-mile pump track — the only Red Bull-certified pump track outside of Gastonia — take shape, along with amenities like a playground, pavilion, restrooms and a walking track.
Another $500,000 may be coming from the state’s Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) once awards are announced next month. As it stands now, groundbreaking should take place sometime next year, with completion in 2025 or 2026.
Lake Junaluska overlook and connector trail
As part of a phased plan to improve pedestrian access between the Terrace Hotel, the Susanna Wesley Garden and the former World Methodist Museum (now called the Warren Center), the Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center will create a brand-new destination for visitors — a trail connecting them all, as well as a new overlook.
Executive Director and CEO Ken Howle told The Smoky Mountain News that the goal was to create a “seamless” experience for guests.
Once Warren Center upgrades are complete, the venue will be able to accommodate conferences, proms and weddings for up to 240 guests. The $100,000 grant from the Haywood TDA is part of a $250,000 project budget.
Completion is still 18 to 24 months off, but once it’s done the new connector trail and overlook will only add to what’s already considered the most walkable community in Haywood County.
Lake Junaluska outdoor recreation area and Stuart Auditorium improvements
Although Lake Junaluska was successful with one of its grant applications, two others fell by the wayside.
The first application, for improvements to lakeside recreation facilities and activities, would have garnered $100,000 toward a $700,000 project that would have replaced the shuffleboard courts with an open-air pavilion suitable for rental by groups holding class reunions, family parties and other events.
Included in the proposal were another series of amenities near the pavilion, including new shuffleboard courts and other family-friendly diversions like cornhole, bocce or ping-pong. The mini golf course was in line for an update, as were pedestrian walkways with access to the site.
The second, improvements to the iconic Stuart Auditorium, would have provided $100,000 toward a $250,000 slate of improvements designed to bring the 109-year-old venue into the 21st century while yet maintaining the historic nature of the space.
The facility, which has hosted everyone from Eleanor Roosevelt to Balsam Range, needs refurbishment of the stage, restoration of the outdoor deck, updates to the bathrooms and a punch list of minor items like broken windows, doors and lights. Relocation of A/V equipment to the floor from the crow’s nest was also a high priority.
Howle told SMN on July 1 that the Lake had already been moving on the projects anyway, and will continue to do so.
- The Lake Junaluska Assembly didn’t get everything it requested, but will still see some improvements funded by the Haywood TDA. File photo
Sulphur Springs Park improvements
Similar to the situation with Lake Junaluska, Waynesville was successful with one grant application, but saw another application rejected.
Sulphur Springs Park, located on the former grounds of the historic White Sulphur Springs Hotel, is a small parcel of open ground owned and maintained by the Town of Waynesville. The only part of the hotel that remains is the spring house — actually, a dilapidated gazebo that houses the natural spring.
Of late, the town’s historic preservation commission has redoubled efforts to enhance the site with a $4,500 commitment to its restoration, along with a $17,500 grant from the Mib and Phil Medford Endowment fund.
The town’s $22,000 one-time project fund request would have provided for the rehabilitation of the spring house, along with stream bank restoration, signage and a small outdoor amphitheater for cultural or educational events.
Chestnut Mountain Park retail and visitor center
Unique among the nine grant applications was the Town of Canton’s — namely, because it was rejected, making Canton the only TDA zip code not to come away with at least some of the TDA’s $500,000 of special project funding.
Canton made the biggest ask — $200,000 for continued improvements to what has rapidly become the crown jewel of Haywood County’s outdoor recreation attractions, Chestnut Mountain Park.
The money would have been used for a mixed-use retail establishment on frontage adjacent to the park that the town would then lease out to concessionaries.
According to the application completed by Town Manager Nick Scheuer, the project would have resulted in the construction of an elevated platform upon which retailers would have placed four or more 40-foot shipping containers, offering bike and fishing equipment rentals, a taproom, restaurant, retail, restrooms or even a visitor center for the park.
Although the Haywood TDA did spend the $500,000 that it said it would, Collins told Haywood County Commissioners on May 2 that the TDA may decide to designate more funding for special projects in the future.
When asked about the future of the Chestnut Mountain Park project, Canton Mayor Zeb Smathers said the town would likely continue to pursue it.
“My understanding is yes, but in a different way,” Smathers said, “and I’m hopeful we’ll get the chance to reapply.”
Buncombe TDA bill becomes law
A bipartisan Senate bill intended to help build infrastructure in Buncombe County using room occupancy tax funds sailed through the General Assembly last week, changing the way Buncombe looks at the community that supports its tourism industry.
Initially co-sponsored by Sens. Chuck Edwards (R-Henderson), Warren Daniel (R-Avery) and Julie Mayfield (D-Buncombe), the bill creates a Legacy Investment From Tourism (LIFT) Fund in addition to the pre-existing Tourism Product Development Fund.
Together, the two funds will now claim 33% of room occupancy tax revenues after operating expenses. Previously, the Tourism Product Development Fund received 25% of room occupancy tax revenues.
The proceeds from the LIFT fund will provide grants or loans to non-profits proposing projects that “[balance] visitor and resident needs,” according to the bill.
Edwards , who is the Republican nominee for the NC-11 congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Madison Cawthorn, called the bill a “noble gesture” on the part of the tourism industry. Mayfield , seeking reelection to her District 49 seat, told The Smoky Mountain News the bill doesn’t go as far as she’d hoped, but that it’s a good step.
Haywood County’s Tourism Development Authority has no equivalent fund; however, it did just recently award $500,000 in grants to six projects that all carry some public benefit.