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Maggie invests in festivals as form of economic development

Maggie Valley took a leap of faith this year with its inaugural Red, White and Boom festival. It was a four-day, July 4th spectacular the town hoped would raise its profile with tourists and tempt locals to venture into Maggie.

Although the take was not quite what was expected and some town reactions are mixed, Festival Director Audrey Hager said she was pleased with the overall outcome of the event.

“In our opinion, it was a big success. We actually were not concerned so much about the money, it was the investment by the town of Maggie Valley in the community,” Hager said of the festival, which featured 14 amusement rides, musical acts and food vendors.

The town spent just over $89,000 and took in about $47,000, leaving town tax payers to subsidize nearly half of the cost. Hager, however, said that the money was a worthwhile investment, bringing people to the town and laying the foundation for making Maggie Valley an annual Independence Day destination.

“With first year events, you build them,” said Hager. “Our whole goal is to build this for the community and make this a signature event so that people think, ‘On Fourth of July, we go to Maggie.’”

Part of the lower revenue, said Hager, was because of a rained-out Monday, and another portion she ascribed to the economy.

“We did not make our projected numbers on the unlimited wrist bands,” she said. The wrist bands gave patrons unlimited access to the fair rides. “With the economy the way it is, this is a really soft market from a pricing standpoint.”

And after losing $13,000 on the Americana Roots and Beer festival earlier this year, Hager decided to adjust the prices for the July event, hoping to entice more families working with limited budgets.

Hager said she’s had some good feedback from the business community, praising the festival for bringing them more tourist business and drawing locals who would have otherwise ventured elsewhere in search of July Fourth festivities.

“Oh, it was fabulous, it was wonderful,” said Brenda O’Keefe, owner of Joey’s Pancake House and long-time fixture in the Maggie Valley business community. “The whole area was filled and my customers were thrilled. I’ve talked to a lot of the local hoteliers and they were packed.”

Not everyone in town, however, was as glowing about the event’s outcome.

“We had a booth down there at the festival and we definitely didn’t do what we thought we would do,” said Erin Mahoney, owner of J. Arthur’s Restaurant on Soco Road in Maggie Valley. “It was a four-day festival and we had a good maybe three hours that we were very busy and the rest of the time it was just dead.”

It was the first time they had fielded a booth at any festival, and Mahoney’s guess is that the event was just too long. There weren’t quite enough people to fill four full days.

Alderman Phil Aldridge, who has been openly skeptical of the money spent on the festivals, is still undecided on his stance on the event’s outcome.

“I’ve still got reservations about it, whether or not it put any heads in beds,” said Aldridge. “Every Fourth of July has always filled this valley up. I don’t think the carnival had anything to do with it.”

Hager said she’s planning a workshop where the community can offer their opinions about the festival — what they liked, what they hated and how to make it better next year.

But, she said, they drew in festival-goers from outer markets such as Atlanta and Columbia, which she sees as an indication that they did something right, even if it cost some taxpayer dollars.

“The money stays here in Maggie Valley, those tax dollars stayed here in Maggie. We never anticipated making money,” said Hager. “Our whole goal is to ultimately break even. It has a big value for the town if we can grow year over year.”

This week, town leaders will hold workshop to consider a request from the organizer of a WWE wrestling event for $15,000 in town and community donations in order to bring a large wrestling event to the festival grounds in September.

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