The life and times of Cataloochee Ranch

Tom Alexander, a famed mountain man, forester and founder of Cataloochee Ranch, chronicled his adventures over the course of his lifetime.

An edited collection of his writings were compiled into a book called Mountain Fever by Alexander’s son in 1995, more than two decades after his father’s death. Tom Alexander, Jr., was a journalist, writing for Time-Life Magazine and later becoming the editor of Fortune Magazine.

The book is chock full of rollicking tales of early life in the Smokies and a fascinating history of Cataloochee Ranch. The writings capture the hardships and joys of converting an isolated mountaintop into a rustic resort, and bring to life the colorful, local characters who helped Tom and his wife, Judy, realize their vision.

An amazing collection of historic photos portray daily life, including works by George Masa, a famed photographer of the early Smokies and a personal friend of the Alexanders.

The book was published by Bright Mountain Books of Asheville. It is available at local bookstores in Haywood County and at the Ranch.

Ghost Town’s spotty financial disclosure frustrates creditors

As Ghost Town heads toward its first big showdown in bankruptcy court next week, objections from those owed money are beginning to pile up.

Ghost Town, an Old West amusement park in Maggie Valley, recently filed a disclosure statement and reorganization plan, which are supposed to outline how it intends to pull out of bankruptcy — presumably making enough profit to repay its debts.

However, Ghost Town failed to include profit and loss statements, back tax filings or basic financial projections as part of its disclosure statement. Objections over the spotty disclosure statement were filed by several parties owed money, including the Haywood County Tax Collector, Mountain Energy and BB&T, the mortgage holder on the property.

Some 200 businesses, many of them local contractors and small businesses in the region, are collectively owed more than $2.4 million. They are at the bottom of the list to be repaid. The reorganization plan calls for paying back only 25 percent of what the businesses are owed over a seven year period using a portion of net profits.

In an objection, BB&T said such a claim was disingenuous. Since Ghost Town’s current owners have never turned a profit, it is possible the businesses owed money would never get a dime, BB&T wrote in its objection.

Ultimately, everyone owed money will get to vote on whether to accept the reorganization plan or force Ghost Town into a liquidation — namely selling off the mountaintop property to the highest bidder and using the proceeds to pay off the debt.

In the disclosure statement, CEO Steve Shiver encouraged everyone owed money to vote yes, claiming they likely won’t see a dime if the park is liquidated, since it won’t fetch enough to pay off all the debt.

Price and Pauley ride easily into office in quiet Maggie race

After a feel-good race lacking much controversy, Maggie Valley voters have re-elected Saralyn Price to her second term on the town board, sending with her a fresh face, motel owner Scott Pauley.

Both Price and Pauley ran on campaigns that promised to bring a balance between business and residential interests. With about 140 votes each, the duo solidly beat out candidates Ron DeSimone and Phillip Wight.

After results were called on election night, Pauley said he’d already printed out business cards with his home and cell phone numbers and was ready to hear what constituents have to say.

“I’m going to be all ears and eyes and feet moving as fast as I can,” said Pauley, who added that he was humbled by his win.

Price and Pauley said they are ready to get moving on promoting the festival grounds to attract tourism to the town. They also said they had reservations about the proposed design standards that would regulate the look of new construction and major renovations.

“Maybe this concept would be better received when we get out of this difficult time,” said Pauley.

“I don’t think anything can be done overnight,” said Price. “Even with new construction, it costs a whole lot more to change appearances.”

On Tuesday, all four candidates lined the front lawn of Maggie Valley’s town hall, greeting voters before they went inside to cast their ballots. Some, like Wight and Pauley, arrived in the early dawn. Wight and Price offered constituents doughnuts and coffee, while Price even threw in some Maggie Valley keychains.

Maggie Valley resident Jeremy Case, 30, said he voted for Price because she provided a “good voice” for Maggie Valley. The message Case wanted to send to the town board is to put tourism second on their priority list.

“Help the local people first,” said Case.

Meanwhile, Deb and John Schaefer came out specifically to cast a vote against Price, who voted to annex their subdivision, Campbell Woods, into the town limits.

“The good thing about annexation is that you can vote,” said Deb.

John, 60, said he voted for DeSimone and Pauley because of their professional backgrounds.

“One is a motel owner, and one is a realtor,” said John. “That’s what needs to be represented here because that’s what the town is.”


Maggie Valley
Town board

Seats up for election:    2

Total seats on board:    4

Saralyn Price (I)    141

Scott Pauley    140

Phillip Wight    82

Ron DeSimone    45

Registered voters:    1,027

Voter turnout:    224 (22%)

Three seek two seats on Maggie Valley board

The Town of Maggie Valley has a town board with four aldermen/alderwomen and a mayor with voting power. Each official serves a four-year term. This November, two spots on the Board of Aldermen are up for election. Alderman Mark DeMeola will not be running for re-election due to health issues with family members that will require him to travel out of the area often.


Aldermen – pick 2


Saralyn Price, 54, retired police chief and part-time restaurant hostess

Price is the only incumbent running for re-election. She has served on the town board for four years. In Price’s view, the town should operate as a team to bring economic development into Maggie Valley. “One of my biggest goals is to get everyone working together.”


Scott Pauley, 48, owner of Travelowes motel

Pauley said he’d like to put an end to the disconnect he sees between the town board and citizens. He plans to do that by providing an open ear to everyone’s concerns and bringing more transparency to the board. “You can’t make everybody happy, but if you’re honest and open from the get go, people aren’t going to be upset.”


Phillip Wight, 41, owner of the Clarketon motel and a heating/cooling company

One of Wight’s primary goals is to get things moving in Maggie Valley, especially when it comes to hiring a festival director. “Do they want to hire somebody or do they not? If I’m elected, it’s not going to take a lot of time to make decisions.”


Ron DeSimone, 56, general contractor

DeSimone said he’d like to focus a little more on services for residents, but also have the town encourage economic development by creating business-friendly zoning and ordinances. “Tourism is certainly a part of the picture, but it’s only a part. Not every business in Maggie Valley is a restaurant or hotel.”

Maggie hopefuls say tourists and locals important

If there’s a buzz word for Maggie Valley’s town board elections this year, it’s “balance.”

Alderwoman Saralyn Price said she wants to “equal it out” between residents and businesses in town. Challenger Scott Pauley claims that he’ll bring balance and cohesiveness back to the board. Challenger Ron DeSimone wants to tip the scales back toward the residents’ side to create a true balance. Meanwhile, challenger Phillip Wight’s idea of balance concerns maintaining a balanced budget.

Two of these four candidates will win seats on the town’s board for the next four years, helping decide how to support the needs of residents and business owners alike, the fate of the festival grounds, and whether to approve proposed design standards that will shape Maggie’s future appearance.

Festival Grounds quandary

An issue on everybody’s mind seems to be how to handle the festival grounds that’s struggling to bring events in to Maggie Valley, thereby attracting tourists to local businesses. The greater underlying issue is determining how involved the town should get in supporting the tourism businesses that make up such a significant portion of its economy.

“I think we should try to help bring businesses in, but we’re not in the festival business,” said Price, who would rather leave the matter up to a festival director.

The town is looking to fill that position but has taken its time since firing the last director in May.

In the past, Price has not supported direct assistance to tourism businesses. Price voted against a request for a $200,000 loan by Ghost Town, an amusement park in town that had been an anchor for tourism before facing financial troubles.

“I didn’t feel like it was up to the taxpayers to do that,” said Price.

Pauley said he’d like to do what he could to help tourism and fill the void on weekends. Even though he owns a motel, he says he’s also a resident and has a “no strings attached” attitude.

According to Pauley, Maggie’s festival grounds is the most beautiful one in the area. If promoted properly, Pauley said the festival grounds could ease some of the effects of rough economic times.

Pauley agreed that the town’s taxpayers shouldn’t subsidize tourism-related businesses directly. However, the town could provide tax incentives to assist them, Pauley said.

According to Pauley, the town’s role is to not do anything that discourages new business. If elected, Pauley hopes to get the ball rolling a little faster on the search for a new festival director.

Wight, who is the president of the Maggie Valley Lodging Association, said more power needs to be passed on to some of the town’s boards, like the parks, recreation and festival grounds committee. Wight said they could have hired a festival director by now.

“All these other boards, they get second-guessed, give them a power,” said Wight. According to Wight, the town should also create a budget oversight committee to ensure greater attention to Maggie’s budget year-round.

“If you’ve got all those other committees, start an oversight committee to make recommendations,” said Wight.

Wight said the town should have handed at least a little money over to Ghost Town, which he considers a “jewel.”

“The worst thing I think the town did to themselves is to give them nothing,” said Wight. “They didn’t give them the $200,000, but didn’t give $5,000 either.”

DeSimone said the town should realize that tourism is only a part of the picture and not put all its eggs in one basket. He would like to see the town be more well-rounded with businesses open year-round for Maggie Valley’s full-time residents.

The town can still encourage enterprise by creating zoning and ordinances that are conducive to business, DeSmone said.

DeSimone spoke out against the creation of the festival grounds in the past, and he now says the town should just hand it over to private hands, rather than getting further involved.

“That festival grounds has really been a sore spot in Maggie Valley,” said DeSimone. “It’s always run at a deficit. It’s never done what it was intended to do.”

Regulating Maggie’s look

Maggie Valley’s planning board has drafted a proposed set of design standards meant to bring a cohesive look to the town. It will encourage designs that befit Maggie’s setting in new construction as well as renovations to already existing buildings. For example, the planning board’s draft now states that earthy colors and pitched roofs would be encouraged.

Price said she’d like to hear more public input on the design standards before deciding whether she supports it. Price does admit that she is not for people painting their buildings orange, yellow, or pink.

Meanwhile, Wight, whose motel’s roof is a bright blue, said the design standards are a “real hard sell.” Wight would like for them to be more suggestive than mandatory for existing construction.

“Deep down, I do not like telling people what the can or can’t do with their property,” said Wight, adding that sometimes having a purple or orange building can be integral to the character of a business.

DeSimone said he understands why the town is working toward bringing cohesiveness to Maggie’s look but acknowledges that it may be a hindrance to businesses, including franchises.

Sometimes their identity is wrapped up in their building,” said DeSimone. While DeSimone favors the concept of design standards, he would support them only if they were flexible enough to allow for special cases.

Pauley said he, too, is in favor of the concept. The key, he said, is to get a “good, healthy dialogue” with citizens started on this issue, as well as on others, before adopting anything.

Pauley added that the town should definitely consider that businesses are going through difficult times before subjecting them to standards that might make a renovation financially unfeasible.

Maggie pins hopes on director to turn corner on festival grounds

The Town of Maggie Valley is moving closer toward hiring a festival director to market its struggling festival grounds. Aldermen decided last Thursday to appoint a six-member selection committee to help sort through job applications and choose the most qualified candidate. The ultimate decision, however, will rest with the board.

Each alderman will recommend two or three people to the board at its next meeting on Oct. 15.

“We’ve certainly heard from more than six or seven people about their two cents,” said Alderman Mark DeMeola, who said he would like the community to become involved in a “positive fashion.”

Maggie Valley’s new hire will hopefully draw new festivals to the venue, which in turn will entice tourists to town, and consequently, support local businesses. But some aldermen said even a festival director might not be able to save the festival grounds from landing in the red.

More than $1 million has been invested into the festival grounds over seven years, with about half coming from grants and donations. But revenues from groups holding festivals there average only about $11,000 each year, forcing town taxpayers to subsidize the venture.

DeMeola said the festival grounds are more like an “amenity” provided by the town than a profit-making entity. Nevertheless, DeMeola said a feasibility study should be done to gauge exactly how profitable the festival grounds could be.

At Thursday’s meeting, Alderman Colin Edwards questioned the need to hire a festival director at this point.

“How many weekends have we got for this festival director to fill?” asked Edwards. “Is it worth the bang for the buck to do it?”

At the same time, Edwards said if they were going to fill the position, it “needs to be filled now.”

Meanwhile, Alderman Phil Aldridge is a firm believer that the festival grounds could be profitable if marketed well and is disappointed the town manager has stalled on getting someone hired.

“There’s been little or no activity as far as our town manager to get out here and find somebody. That’s his job. That’s a position that we need,” Aldridge said. “We keep bouncing around with ideas, not ever settling, what [can] people expect?”

The director’s position has been left empty since May when the town fired the last director after only a few months into the job for not producing results.

Town Manager Tim Barth said he had received five applications at the time of the meeting, but there shouldn’t be a rush to fill the position.

“If none of them look like they can do the job, we’ll re-advertise until we get somebody who can do it,” said Barth.

Mayor Roger McElroy said the public should keep in mind that until three or four years ago, the town had not been in the business of promoting tourism, allowing the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce to handle it instead.

“This is a new ballgame for us,” said McElroy. “We’ve never had to do it before. We don’t necessarily want to do it now, but nobody else wants to do it.”

Bridging the divide: Maggie struggles to find new identity among tourists, second-home owners and year-round residents

Home to 3,000 motel rooms yet only 1,610 year-round residents, Maggie Valley can’t exactly escape the term “tourist town.”

Anyone driving through the main drag passing a long line of lodging options would know. But perhaps less evident to visitors is the precarious balancing act the town constantly faces in satisfying both tourist and local needs.

In helping to achieve that delicate equilibrium and develop a vision for future growth, Maggie Valley has formed its own Economic Development Advisory Committee. Though the town officially created an economic development advisory commission way back in September 2005, the ball finally got rolling on the committee only recently.

The seven members appointed to the committee last month will serve as a liaison between businesses, the town and citizens of the community. The commission has met twice so far to formulate a better idea of its responsibilities and avoid redundancies.

The EDC faces the gargantuan task of creating an attractive model of growth that will satisfy everybody, from year-round residents to the increasing number of second-home owners to tourists simply visiting for a few days. Since Maggie Valley has long catered to tourists, one of the EDC’s tasks may be to update the town’s tourism model, which has been criticized in the past for being somewhat outdated.

As the main breadwinner for the Haywood Tourism Development Authority, with nearly 60 percent of the authority’s revenues coming from Maggie Valley, how the town handles its growth - and how that affects tourism - will clearly be relevant outside its borders.


What Maggie Valley wants

The EDC has discussed the idea of surveying residents and local business owners to learn more about what the community craves in terms of growth. Asking Maggie Valley residents about what they’d like to see developed in their town will naturally elicit some divergent reactions, but there does seem to be a near consensus on some issues. While many acknowledge that tourism is the “lifeblood” of Maggie Valley, they would like to see more services for full-time residents.

One step in that direction is to keep businesses open year round.

“Some of us who are open need to survive the winter,” said Gabriela Edwards, co-owner of A Holiday Motel. “The ski area is great and Tube World is great, but they’re done in the evening so it’s like, what do we do now?”

“More businesses in Maggie Valley need to bite the bullet and stay open year round,” Joe Moody, who serves on the board of directors for the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Bob LaBracio, who owns Specialty Lock & Door Company, said he’d like to see stores selling more than just “T-shirts and trinkets” open all year.

Also on LaBracio’s wish list are healthier choice restaurants and specialty grocery stores like Earth Fare and Greenlife. Many residents interviewed expressed interest in having a grocery store of any kind developed so they wouldn’t have to drive elsewhere to pick up groceries.

Ken Johnson, chairman of the newly formed EDC, said it’s been difficult to bring a grocery store to Maggie Valley since there are so few full-time residents, but a specialty store might be a feasible option. Making up for Maggie Valley’s sparse population, a specialty store would have a broad demographic and attract people from neighboring counties.

However, there is at least one point of contention for residents: fast food chain restaurants. Some residents prefer more options for a quick bite to eat, while others are strongly against chain establishments.

“I’d like to see McDonald’s and Dairy Queen [rather than] go all the way over to Waynesville,” said Gene O’Kelley, a regular on the front bench of the Shell gas station in town. “McDonald’s would do good here.”

“I don’t mind going to Waynesville,” said Joanne Martin, owner of Fireside Cottages and Mountaineer Restaurant. “I don’t want Burger King and McDonald’s up and down.”

Other suggestions for businesses included a pharmacy, a doctor’s office, a dentist’s office and more medical facilities in general.


Preservation as a goal

Jim Higel, owner of Legends Sports Grill, said Maggie Valley might just need more of the same.

“We need more shops, motels and restaurants,” Higel said. “If you have a motel in the middle of the desert, you’re bankrupt. If you have 500, you’re Las Vegas.”

But being akin to Las Vegas is a far cry from what other residents want.

“It’s not what you want to see, it’s what you don’t want to see,” said Wayne Busch, owner of America Rides Maps. “I prefer not seeing any change at all, but it’s going to come.”

Though some Maggie Valley residents can spout off a list of things they’d like to add to the town, there are some facets of Maggie Valley living they do not want touched.

Busch said industry and manufacturing should not even be considered. “What we got here is somewhat fragile,” said Busch.

Brenda O’Keefe, owner of Joey’s Pancake House, said she’d like to see Maggie Valley take a step back and focus on its mountain culture.

“I think we can market ourselves in a different way,” said O’Keefe. “I have always wanted this area to look back toward heritage culture.”

Kathleen Klawitter, a member of the EDC, moved to Maggie Valley a month after her first visit last year. She said she is interested most in preserving what brought her here in the first place though she knows growth is somewhat inevitable.

“I believe Maggie Valley will grow anyway. Its beauty and tranquility will invite growth,” said Klawitter.

Steve Shiver, another EDC member and president of Ghost Town, said there is a need to officially gather community input and data collection to see both what residents desire and what is possible.

According to Shiver, Maggie Valley’s infrastructure can handle more tourists. Drawing more visitors to the area would benefit everybody in town with better tax revenues, he said.

But for now, the town’s major projects seem to include a focus on residents. The town is putting in two wheelchair accessible river decks in Parham Park near Jonathan Creek and working on getting a “very promising” $1.3 million in stimulus funds to build the first residential sidewalk in Maggie Valley. It has also recently approved a special zoning exception for an assisted living facility.

Maggie chases festivals as ticket to tourism

When the Maggie Valley Board of Aldermen purchased land for a town festival ground in 2002, it had high hopes for success.

Events held there would reel in visitors to stay at local motels, eat at local restaurants, and shop at local stores.

As well intentioned as the act may have been — seven years and more than $1 million later — the festival grounds is still not producing enough money to cover expenses. The town recently decided to write off the debt, which means money generated from the festival grounds won’t be used to pay back the town’s general fund, which has been covering costs ever since the festival grounds were created.

The town rushed to develop the festival grounds to compensate for a potential dwindling in tourism after Ghost Town, an amusement park and one of Maggie Valley’s anchors of tourism, shut down temporarily.

The Town of Maggie Valley has paid for roughly half of the $1 million cost of buying the property and installing improvements, with the rest of the money coming from grants and donations.

Annually, the festival grounds has brought in an average of nearly $11,000 in revenues, paid by groups holding festivals there. Meanwhile operating expenses runs an average of about $31,000 annually.

“The festival grounds fund doesn’t generate enough money to pay off the expenses to run the festival grounds,” said Town Manager Tim Barth.

Furthermore, revenue doesn’t begin to cover debt on the property, both from land purchase and improvements made over the years, such as a stage, restrooms and concession stand. The debt has averaged $147,000 a year.

“The general fund is still making the payment every year for the land,” Barth said.

The result is that town taxpayers, including residents with no personal stake in tourism, have been saddled with subsidizing the operation.

Barth said the town never envisioned that the festival grounds would be a profitable venture. Its main function was to bring tourists to “spend time in Maggie and spend money in Maggie.”

But Alderman Phil Aldridge said while others claim the festival grounds will never be a “money making proposition,” he begs to differ. According to Aldridge, the town could make a better effort to promote the festival grounds.

“Why say the race is over when it’s only half run?” said Aldridge. “You’re investing into something. It takes money to make money.”


Revolving door

The town is hoping to bring in fresh talent yet again to aid the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds in attracting events. Town leaders have oscillated over the years on whether the town needed a dedicated festival director, seeing a few come and go without lasting success. The last festival director, who was fired in May, lasted a mere three months.

Barth said the town board decided to see if it could go without the position and still have events materialize. The laissez-faire approach has now been put aside, as the town is once again on the hunt for a festival director who will better market the venue.

A 1 percent tax on Maggie Valley’s lodging will fund about $20,000 of the next festival director’s salary, with the town making up the rest.

Maggie Valley’s festival season, which runs from May to October, saw a total of 11 festivals this year, compared to 13 the year before.

Some business owners said the festival grounds has great potential for success, and the move to hire a festival director should have happened a long time ago.

“They need to put somebody in charge,” said Jim Higel, owner of Legends Sports Grill. “Nobody knows who to call.”

“The problem with the festival grounds is who’s managing it,” said Joanne Martin, owner of the Mountaineer Restaurant and Fireside Cottages. “The festival grounds is an important part of the town’s well-being. They really need to get that hitched up.”

Tammy Brown, chairwoman of the town’s parks, recreation, and festival advisory committee, said even though the town has been very dedicated to making improvements to the festival grounds, there has been a need all along for someone to market it to the public.

“It’s time to actually go after folks that have the ability to come in and put on an event,” Brown said. “The town is not in the business of putting on events and festivals. It’s time-intensive, labor-intensive ... There are folks out there that are promoters that do this for a living.”


Try, try again

Earlier this year, the outgoing festival director complained that cost charged for using the festival grounds was a deterrent in landing events. Brown said the festival advisory board asked the former director to do a study on costs at similar venues, but it was never completed.

When the festival grounds was just starting up, Brown’s board did research rents for similar-sized venues to ensure prices were fair.

Running an event at the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds currently costs for-profit organizations $500 per day and non-profits $250 each day. In addition, there’s a $1,000 deposit and $250 per day charge for using the stage, water, electricity and lighting.

Earlier this year, Jeff Cody, sponsor for Rocky Mountain Events, cancelled a mini-truck show due to higher than anticipated fees. According to Cody, the additional fee for the use of electricity, the stage and the water was “ridiculous.” Cody said insurance costs were also more expensive in North Carolina than in Tennessee, where he eventually moved the event.

Regardless of the festival grounds’ somewhat lackluster revenues, there are still some who are optimistic about its future.

Joe Moody, who serves on the board of directors for the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce, said the festival grounds is a great venue even if it isn’t a moneymaking venture. Moody said the grounds is successful in supporting local businesses.

In his opinion, a full-time festival director would be valuable for the entire county and could be pursued as a joint effort.

“It should be rolled together,” Moody said. “[The director] needs to be able to sell the whole county, not just Maggie Valley.

Ghost Town still in the red despite $1.53 million in revenue

Ghost Town in the Sky did not bring in enough revenue from its amusement park operations during the months of May, June and July to cover its overhead and operating expenses.

Ghost Town recently filed financial statements with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for May, June and July that show how much it made off ticket sales, concessions and souvenirs. For the three-month period, Ghost Town made $1.531 million in revenue off the park.

Meanwhile, the Maggie Valley amusement park paid out $1.845 million in operating costs, including salaries, utilities, insurance, taxes, advertising and equipment.

The operating loss was offset thanks to contributions from investors to the tune of $322,000. The financial statements do not say where or who the cash infusion came from. The cash infusion mostly came in May, when the park bore significant expenses to get the doors open for the season. Once open, the park began to break even and during the month of July, the park even made money.

Ghost Town CEO Steve Shiver made a modest salary of $5,426 over the three-month period. However, a company Shiver is president of, Global Management Services, was paid $27,000 by Ghost Town for the period. Shiver’s company is billed as a professional services company and dates to Shiver’s former life in the Miami area. The services Shiver’s company provided were not spelled out in the financial filings, but the fee was listed under a section for payments to insiders.

The theme park has suffered a setback this summer by failing to get the Cliffhanger Roller Coaster open.

The Maggie Valley theme park filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March in hopes of holding off bill collectors long enough to get back on its feet. In addition to a $9.5 million mortgage, the park has a trail of unpaid bills with more than 215 companies totaling $2.5 million.

Ghost Town has been granted an extension to file its reorganization plan under bankruptcy protection. In early July, days before the plan was due, Ghost Town asked the court for an extension. The bankruptcy court granted a three-month extension, making the plan now due in early October. The plan is supposed to spell out how the company plans to make money to pay back its myriad creditors.

Those owed money get to vote on whether to accept Ghost Town’s reorganization plan. The plan is supposed to be voted on by creditors within two months of being filed.

The bankruptcy court turned down a request by Ghost Town that would have paved the way for another $250,000 loan from a private investor, Alaska Pressley. The loan would have been used to help get the incline railway working. Ghost Town wanted to pay back the loan by dipping into proceeds from ticket sales, but the bankruptcy court ruled that this in effect would allow Pressley to jump in line ahead of others already owed money by Ghost Town.

Ghost Town still honing bankruptcy comeback plan

Ghost Town in the Sky wants more time to prepare its bankruptcy reorganization plan and is seeking an extension.

The Maggie Valley theme park filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March in hopes of holding off bill collectors long enough to get back on its feet. Ghost Town was supposed to submit a reorganization plan in U.S Bankruptcy Court within four months, which would have been early July, but is seeking a three-month extension.

In addition to a $9.5 million mortgage, the park has a trail of unpaid bills with more than 215 companies totaling $2.5 million, from electricians and contractors to marketing agents and souvenir vendors. Those owed money get to vote on whether to accept Ghost Town’s reorganization plan.

The court has not ruled on whether to grant the extension.

Meanwhile, Alaska Pressley, a longtime Maggie Valley resident and business owner, has offered a $250,000 loan to Ghost Town to help the beleaguered theme park on its road to recovery. The loan would be used to help get the incline railway working, according to the bankruptcy filing.

The incline railway was once used to transport visitors up the mountain to the amusement park, but it has not been operational for many years. Ghost Town owners began rebuilding the incline railway when they purchased the park, but ran out of money to finish.

Pressley has been a player in the Maggie tourism industry for more than 50 years and was friends with the founder of Ghost Town, R.B. Coburn. When new owners came on the scene and reopened the park after a five-year hiatus, Pressley was quick to join their side as a stalwart supporter.

Ghost Town proposes to pay back the loan over the course of five years, with $1 per customer this year and $2 per customer for the next four years.

The arrangement would allow Pressley to sidestep others who are owed money by Ghost Town by directly tapping Ghost Town’s revenue stream. BB&T, which holds a $9.5 mortgage on the property, objected to the proposal as it would funnel profits off the park to pay back a select lender. The fate of the loan and payment arrangement will ultimately be up to the bankruptcy judge.

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