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Downtown Waynesville Commission tunes up for ‘24

The Downtown Waynesville Association administers property tax revenue collected from property owners. File photo The Downtown Waynesville Association administers property tax revenue collected from property owners. File photo

The Downtown Waynesville Commission has had two years to get on its feet since its predecessor organization imploded.

Now, after trying to “build the plane while flying it,” in the words of Chair Jay Spiro, the organization that administers the town’s municipal service district is setting goals and assessing its strengths and weaknesses to tune up for the coming year. 

“I think we’ve made some big strides,” said Beth Gilmore, executive director of the DWC, during an annual planning workshop on Jan. 24.

The downtown municipal service district is a defined area where property owners have opted to pay an additional 19 cents per $100 in assessed value in property taxes to help fund beautification activities, which at their core are really economic development activities.

This year, the DWC appears to be taking a more aggressive approach to economic development — not just hosting the annual festivals for which they’re mostly recognized.

During the workshop, board members tweaked their three main goals to reflect that approach.

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First, the DWC plans to increase sales tax revenue generated within the municipal service district by 10% through economic activity that directly or indirectly ties back to outdoor recreation.

Next, the DWC wants to establish criteria for designating an “Appalachian True” certification for locally or regionally made handcrafted goods. That could help with the goal of increasing sales tax revenues.

Finally, the DWC seeks to squash the assumption that there’s nothing for locals on Main Street by spending a minimum of 50% of the annual $20,000 advertising budget to highlight the availability of goods and services that can be purchased from a locally-owned small business instead of from a big box store or online retailer. That could also help with sales tax revenues, especially off-season.

Waynesville Town Council Member Jon Feichter, the town’s representative on the DWC board, pushed for 100%, reasoning that the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority already spends hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on regional or national advertising campaigns that bring visitors to the county and the town.

Those goals are ambitious, but to accomplish them, the DWC will first look inwards at its own organization and operations. The DWC’s accrediting organization, the NC Main Street and Rural Planning Center, recently updated its best practices standards, so the DWC was tasked with a self-assessment in six areas.

The weakest of the six areas was about fostering a broad-based community commitment to revitalization. In this arena, creating a culture of inclusion through partnerships, collaborations, community outreach and engagement from all quarters of the community is critical to success.

Although the DWC clearly has strong partnerships with local government — it’s now town-affiliated, unlike its predecessor — it’s less so with private businesses as well as with the two churches that bracket the district, per discussions in the workshop.

One thing the DWC and its predecessor share, according to the self-assessment, is that demonstrating the result of their actions and their funding has been difficult.

“The community by and large doesn’t know a lot about us,” Gilmore said. “There are people who think we’re [just] here to put on special events. I think we have room to grow in a lot of areas.” 

For fiscal year 2024, the town estimates it will appropriate a total of $106,400 in MSD property tax revenues to the DWC, along with a supplemental appropriation of $82,780. The appropriation is discretionary, meaning it could increase, decrease or disappear based solely on the will of Council.

Tracking, packaging and demonstrating both the quantitative and the qualitative impact of the DWC is critical to maintaining funding.

To that end, a community forum will be scheduled for March, where DWC officials will both talk, and listen. A summer meeting of property owners was also discussed.

Two areas where the DWC fared better but could improve are in implementing more preservation-based economic development programs and diversifying its funding streams.

Preservation-based economic development utilizes a community’s place-based and cultural assets. Preserving those assets is important, and can be accomplished with preservation ordinances, design standards and incentives.

The forthcoming dedication of the new Waynesville arch, tentatively scheduled for June 1, will be a big step in augmenting that place-based development strategy, as will a grant-funded mural going into the narrow alleyway that connects Main Street to Wall Street.

Diversifying its funding streams, however, will be more difficult and could be a political decision.

Feichter said he would either push for an increase in the MSD’s property tax rate, or push to stay slightly above revenue-neutral when the next countywide property revaluation goes into effect in 2025. During the last revaluation, when values soared, the town actually lowered the MSD’s tax rate by a penny to maintain a relatively revenue-neutral budget.

Aside from property tax revenues and supplemental appropriations, the DWC spent last year developing a brand and expects to push it out more this year with the potential for merchandise sales.

No matter how successful the brand, it won’t suddenly become a major revenue center, so DWC wants to spend more time focusing on grants — especially now that the town has a dedicated grants administrator.

Gilmore also asked about the possibility of founding a non-profit, similar to the Haywood County Schools Foundation, that could accept donations and help with fundraising and volunteer recruitment.

Among the strongest areas of the DWC were in its inclusive leadership and organizational capabilities and in its strategy-driven programming.

Strategy-driven programming includes the periodic revision of medium- and long-range plans based on market-informed input so the yearly work plan can be proactive, rather than reactive. Several issues from last year’s retreat — like expansion — remain in limbo, but others, like merchandising, are moving forward.

On inclusivity, the DWC’s governing board is diverse in that it’s comprised of business owners, property owners, government officials and residents, but the board did lose some ethnic diversity with the recent departure of two board members.

As the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and its enrolled members are increasingly investing in areas outside the Qualla Boundary, the lack of Cherokee representation was also noted. Nothing was said about LGBTQ+ representation.

Downtown Waynesville Commission special events for 2024 & 2025

All events are tentative and subject to change. 

January - Downtown Waynesville Ice Stroll

February - Love the Locals

April - Appalachian Heritage Weekend

May - First Fridays Art After Dark (monthly through December )

May - Live Music Saturdays (monthly through October)

June - Mountain Street Dance (monthly through August)

October - Church Street Art & Craft Show

October - Apple Harvest Festival

October - Treats on the Street

November - Annual Tree Lighting

December - Waynesville Christmas Parade

December - A Smoky Mountain Christmas


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