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Throwback sign could again grace Waynesville’s Main Street

The original arch on Waynesville’s Main Street was taken down on Aug. 30, 1972. Alex McKay photo The original arch on Waynesville’s Main Street was taken down on Aug. 30, 1972. Alex McKay photo

When the old Downtown Waynesville Association imploded back in 2021 due to mismanagement and a general lack of enthusiasm, it left behind only a soiled legacy that unfortunately overshadowed three decades of transformative work.

Now, a new downtown project utilizing the DWA’s leftover funds could help rewrite that narrative. 

Since its inception in 1985, the Downtown Waynesville Association had been the nonprofit charged with managing the town of Waynesville’s Municipal Service District. In the District, property owners pay an additional property tax above and beyond the standard levy. The DWA spent the money each year on beautification projects and events designed to boost Main Street businesses. 

In 2022, the town awarded the contract to manage the District to a new organization, now called the Downtown Waynesville Commission, meaning the old DWA lost its only client and source of income. There were several ideas for the $75,000 remaining in the DWA’s coffers, but none seemed to gain any traction, until now. 

“Since March of last year, I have been working alongside my colleagues on the Executive Board of the original Downtown Waynesville Association to make our dream of bringing back the arch a reality,” said Waynesville Alderman Jon Feichter. 

The arch Feichter talks about in a Jan. 28 Facebook post closely resembles an iconic sign that had hung over the north end of North Main Street from 1933 to 1972. Since the funds are technically taxpayer money meant to be spent within the District, the DWA executive board’s decision to design, fabricate and install a new one was an obvious one. 

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Feichter said the decision came about after one of the board members, Joyce Massey, had a chance conversation with an official from the North Carolina Department of Transportation. Apparently, it had been assumed that NCDOT would never allow the town to rebuild such a structure over a state road. That assumption was incorrect. 

After discussing the idea with NCDOT, Feichter said they were “open to the concept” if stringent design guidelines were met and if a suitable location that wouldn’t interfere with traffic signals or sight lines could be found. 

“Just like that, we knew how to spend that money,” Feichter said. 

The DWA then contracted Buzz Bizzell, who designed the new wayfinding signs recently erected across the county, to produce illustrations suitable for presentation to NCDOT. 

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The new arch will closely resemble the one that stood over Main Street for nearly 40 years. Town of Waynesville photo

They settled on a location near the parking lot for Watami Sushi & Noodles, at the opposite end of Main Street from where the original once stood. The location, Feichter explained, is outside the sidewalk area and clear of underground utilities and wouldn’t prevent drivers from seeing traffic signals on Main and Pigeon streets. 

As designed, the sign will be able to withstand wind loads of up to 110 miles per hour. Pilings six feet deep will anchor it into the ground, and 4-foot stone pillars will comprise its base. 

On top of those, 16-inch steel columns rising 24 feet into the air will support the arch, which will have a minimum height above the roadway of 20 feet at the edges, gently sloping upwards to 21 feet, 6 inches in the middle. The average height of a semi-truck trailer is just under 14 feet. 

The arch itself will measure 4 feet in height and will read “Gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains.” The original sign read “Great Smoky Mountains National Park” on one side, and “Waynesville Scenic Center Eastern America” on the other. 

“In 12 years of researching and collecting Waynesville’s history and doing talks, I get more questions about the arch than anything else,” said Alex McKay, who is probably Waynesville’s most knowledgeable and enthusiastic local historian. “I hope that future generations will look at the new sign with the same fondness that past generations looked at the original sign.”

But the project doesn’t exactly have the green light yet. Some significant obstacles remain. 

On Jan. 24, Waynesville Aldermen voted unanimously to ask NCDOT for an encroachment agreement. 

Although Feichter and Massey have indicated that NCDOT would consider such a proposition, there’s no guarantee they’ll grant the encroachment. Additionally, NCDOT has a long history of disagreements with municipalities that request alterations or additions to its plans and policies. 

Then, there’s funding. The $75,000 in the old DWA’s bank account isn’t nearly enough to cover the full cost of the project. As inflation has impacted the cost of building materials, specifically steel, the total price tag is currently estimated to be around $170,000. 

Feichter said he thinks the additional funds could be raised privately, and that no taxpayer money will be needed to finish the project. 

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