Mountain Heritage Day to offer continuous entertainment, new Children’s Tent
The talents of Western North Carolina’s top traditional musicians and singers will be showcased during the 36th annual Mountain Heritage Day, coming up Saturday, Sept. 25, on the campus of Western Carolina University.
The festival’s newly named “Mountain” and “Heritage” stages will feature 22 separate musical acts that will provide constant free entertainment from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., said festival coordinator Trina Royar.
“Our schedule of performers for the two stages includes bluegrass, old-time music, bluegrass-gospel, traditional Irish music, traditional and contemporary folk, and traditional country. If you like music in the ‘traditional’ genre, we’ve got you covered,” Royar said.
The entertainment lineup includes regional bluegrass favorites Balsam Range, Whitewater Bluegrass Co., Buncombe Turnpike and the Stoney Creek Boys, as well as the traditional and contemporary folk sounds of Phil and Gaye Johnson, old-time music by Jackson County’s Queen and Deitz families, and the Red Wellies, a traditional Irish band from Asheville.
Also, Mountain Heritage Day will feature four clogging teams, with two teams performing on each stage, Royar said.
Other musical performances are scheduled at the festival’s Circle Tent, a venue designed to provide visitors with a workshop kind of experience, Royar said. The Banjo Circle will feature area banjo pickers Mark Pruett, Junior Queen and Steve Sutton. The Fiddle Circle will highlight the talents of Trevor Stuart, Delbert Queen, Danielle Bishop, Beanie O’Dell and Arvil Freeman, and the Mandolin Circle will feature Adam King, Danny Bishop, Barry Clinton and Darren Nicholson. WCU’s own student group, the Porch Music Club, will lead an open jam at the Circle Tent at 3:30 p.m.
While the music and dancing is going on at the two main stages and in the Circle Tent at Mountain Heritage Day, a new performance area, the Children’s Tent, will offer younger festival visitors a wide range of activities, Royar said.
WCU’s 36th annual Mountain Heritage Day set for Saturday, Sept. 25
The traditional folkways of the Southern Appalachian Mountains will once again take center stage as the Western Carolina University community presents the 36th annual Mountain Heritage Day on Saturday, Sept. 25.
WCU’s annual festival offers a smorgasbord of traditional mountain culture, with a variety of music, dance, crafts, folk arts, contests and activities that is hard to find in a one-day event, said festival coordinator Trina Royar of WCU’s Mountain Heritage Center.
All Mountain Heritage Day activities, including stage performances, will take place between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., with the exception of the 5-K footrace, which begins at 8 a.m., and registration for the woodcutting contest, which starts at 9 a.m. This year’s festival will be held on fields behind the Cordelia Camp Building, in parking lots and grassy areas around the Camp Building, and in the nearby Mountain Heritage Center, which is located on the ground floor of H.F. Robinson Administration Building.
Each year’s Mountain Heritage Day is the result of months of planning and work by a host of volunteers representing WCU’s student body, faculty and staff, and all that activity culminates with a busy festival day on the last Saturday in September, Royar said. “In particular, the event requires a big commitment by the university’s police force and facilities management department, but the payoff comes for everyone involved with the festival when they see the big crowds and smiling faces at WCU’s largest one-day event,” she said.
See also: Mountain Heritage Day to offer continuous entertainment, new Children’s Tent
Arts, crafts and food
Visitors at this year’s Mountain Heritage Day will find 80 booths of juried arts and crafts, providing a perfect opportunity for local residents to get in some early holiday shopping, Royar said. Items for sale will include everything from ceramics and wood carvings to basketry, jewelry and metalwork. Beginning this year, the layout of the arts and crafts vendor area has been redesigned to provide for a more pleasant shopping experience, with each vendor having a “corner” booth with two open sides. Fifty-nine percent of the arts and crafts vendors at this year’s festival are from Buncombe and other N.C. counties to the west, Royar said.
About 20 food vendors also are scheduled to participate in the festival, offering festival-goers tempting options such as Cherokee frybread, gyros, angus beef burgers, kettlecorn and ice cream.
Stickball and blowguns
The traditional Cherokee game of stickball has been a favorite attraction for festival visitors in recent years, and the Snowbird Stickball Team from Graham County will make its first appearance at Mountain Heritage Day to demonstrate that ancient sport. Before the two dozen members of the team begin play at 11 a.m., they will “take to the waters” of nearby Cullowhee Creek as an act of purification, said team leader Charles “Shorty” Kirkland.
Another Native American tradition will be demonstrated at 1 p.m. when team members join with their female associates in playing the courtship game of “Fish.” Male players use sticks to throw a ball up to hit a wooden fish that sits atop a 24-foot pole, while the female players are allowed to use their hands to throw the ball. Also, the females are allowed to physically harass the male players, “but the man has to be a perfect gentleman,” Kirkland said.
The Snowbird team also will demonstrate the use of traditional Cherokee blowguns at 3 p.m.
Music & clogging
For fans of traditional music and clogging, life doesn’t get much better than the two main stages of Mountain Heritage Day, which will offer continuous free entertainment from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Royar said.
The newly renamed “Mountain Stage” (formerly Norton Stage) and “Heritage Stage” (formerly Traditional Stage) will present many types of traditional music ranging from traditional and contemporary bluegrass to old-time and folk music. A new act at this year’s festival will be the Red Wellies, an Asheville-based traditional Irish band. Visitors can expect to hear many local favorites, such as the bluegrass band Balsam Range, which includes three WCU alumni.
Clogging fans will want to check out performances by the Blue Ridge Highsteppers, the Rough Creek Cloggers, the Cole Mountain Cloggers and the Dixie Darlings, Royar said.
Festival music won’t be limited to the two stages. Visitors will have an opportunity to see some rapid-fire picking up close and personal at the Circle Tent, which will provide a “workshop” sort of musical experience, Royar said. The 11 a.m. “Banjo Circle” will feature Mark Pruett, Steve Sutton and Junior Queen, while a 12:30 p.m. “Fiddle Circle” will showcase the talents of Trevor Stuart, Delbert Queen, Danielle Bishop, Beanie O’Dell and Arvil Freeman. A “Mandolin Circle” at 2 p.m. will include Adam King, Danny Bishop, Barry Clinton and Darren Nicholson.
Other Circle Tent activities will include a 10 a.m. presentation on “The Building of the Glenville Dam and Lake: An Engineering Feat” by the Jackson County Historical Society, and a 3:30 p.m. open jam session of traditional music led by the Porch Music Club, a WCU student group.
Other musical performances that have been a part of every Mountain Heritage Day will take place at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., when singers from around the region will gather to demonstrate the sacred mountain tradition of shape-note singing. The singing will take place in the gymnasium adjacent to the Camp Building, with participants singing from the “Sacred Harp” and “Christian Harmony” hymnals.
Mountain Heritage Day organizers this year are putting more emphasis on providing activities for children, and a new Children’s Tent has been added that will provide fun and educational sessions all day, Royar said.
Heritage activities will be offered from 10 to 11 a.m., and during the afternoon hours musical programs geared toward children will be presented by Joe and Bill Deitz, Phil and Gaye Johnson, and the Whitewater Bluegrass Co., with the bluegrass band leading “play party games” and a “family dance.” Storyteller Bobby McMillon will entertain the kids beginning at 2 p.m., and more heritage activities will be offered from 3 until 5 p.m.
Other important parts of Mountain Heritage Day include the folk arts and living history demonstrations, an auto show, contests and the annual Mountain Heritage Awards for 2010.
These awards are given to one individual and one organization in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the preservation or interpretation of the history and culture of Southern Appalachia. That presentation will take place at 12:15 p.m. on the Heritage Stage.
Cinematography professor wins Telly Award for ‘Wesley’
Arledge Armenaki, Western Carolina University associate professor of cinematography, is recipient of a Telly Award for his work as director of photography on “Wesley,” a historical movie about a co-founder of the Methodist church.
Armenaki won the bronze prize in the category of creative lighting, one of four Telly Awards given to the makers of “Wesley.” The motion picture, filmed in and around Winston-Salem and Morganton in 2007 and 2008, also received a silver award in the category of religion and spirituality production, and bronze awards in the categories of computer-generated imagery and special effects, and historical and biographical production.
Now in their 31st year, the Telly Awards honor the best local, regional, and cable television commercials and programs, top video and film productions, and work created for the Web.
Foundery Pictures’ John Jackman, director of “Wesley,” credited Armenaki with giving the movie an authentic look and feel.
“I asked Arledge to create a classical, naturally-lit look like the Renaissance painter Caravaggio, and he succeeded beyond my expectations,” said Jackman.
While serving as director of photography on the movie, Armenaki also guided 16 WCU students in the motion picture and television production program who worked as crew. WCU students and faculty also were cast in the movie.
Other winners included programs by National Geographic, The History Channel, The Discovery Channel, NBC Universal, and other prominent networks.
University maintains top 10 spot in a recent national ranking
Western Carolina University maintained its top 10 ranking on a list of leading public regional universities in the south in the 2011 U.S. News & World Report “Best Colleges” guidebook released Aug. 17
For the second year in a row, the guide ranks WCU at the No. 10 spot among the south’s public regional universities.
In addition, the U.S. News & World Report ranks WCU third among southern universities whose graduates had the least amount of debt load in 2009.
The category in which WCU appears includes higher education institutions that offer a wide range of bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and that tend to attract most of their students from surrounding states.
The annual rankings are based on a variety of indicators, including assessment by administrators at peer institutions, graduation rate, retention of students, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources and alumni giving.
How would being a town help Cullowhee?
In hopes of transforming Cullowhee into a more vibrant college community, a group dedicated to reinventing the lackluster area around campus wants the Village of Forest Hills to expand its town limits and annex a portion of the university and its surrounds.
The restaurants, coffee shops and bars typically found around universities are markedly absent at Western— witnessed by a standing joke on campus that “Cullowhee is a state of mind.”
One barrier to revitalization in Cullowhee is the lack of legal alcohol sales. Alcohol sales, from a six-pack at a gas station to a glass of wine with dinner, aren’t allowed by the county. Incorporated towns have the option of allowing alcohol sales, however, as do Sylva and Dillsboro.
If the annexation goes through, and if the Village of Forest Hills in turn passed a law to allow alcohol sales, it would help attract restaurants and a grocery store.
But there are other ways incorporation might benefit Cullowhee revitalization. Lacking town designation, the community is missing out on state and federal grants, from funding for sidewalks to sewer lines. If incorporated, the area would also be entitled to a cut sales tax revenue collected by merchants in the town limits.
Another option, and one that remains if the Village of Forest Hills decides not to expand, is for Cullowhee to incorporate as brand-new town of its own. But the process would be more arduous and complicated.
Tiny town of Forest Hills holds fate of Cullowhee revitalization in its hands
Being the top leader of the Village of Forest Hills isn’t as serene as it once was.
Admittedly, Irene Hooper, the first mayor of this subdivision-turned-town, dealt with some thorny issues after the residential area near Western Carolina University voted to incorporate in 1997. Her job, mainly, was to ferry the town through the mechanics of keeping student housing out. The 350 to 400 people living in the Village of Forest Hills were clear on not wanting students taking over their community.
“We have a lovely area here,” Hooper said at the time. “Or, we did, let’s put it that way. Mailboxes are being torn down, beer bottles are thrown around, cars are racing, parties are going on and dogs are barking.”
The newly sworn town board’s first act after the referendum to incorporate passed? Adopting a building moratorium on everything but single-family, site-built, residential houses with at least 2,000 feet of heated space. The board was confident there weren’t many students who could afford that kind of housing, given the average home in the Village of Forest Hills at that time was just 1,843 square feet in size.
Thirteen years later, the town’s current top leader is also grappling with growth issues. But that’s about where the similarity begins and ends. Mayor Jim Wallace has to help decide: Should the Village of Forest Hills embrace what it once so clearly rejected? Should the town actually agree to annex university land into its town limits, and perhaps even change its name to Cullowhee?
Decision-making time is nigh. Wallace said he believes the town’s board members will vote “yes” for annexation. That is, if WCU, in the next couple of weeks, brings to the town a document containing what the mayor anticipates — a method outlining exactly how the town could best accommodate the mixed-use land plan necessary for the Village of Forest Hills to move forward with the annexation.
See also: How would being a town help Cullowhee?
There isn’t much to be seen in the one square mile that makes up the Village of Forest Hills. Tidy houses, an inn, an informally designed and painted sign posted along N.C. 107 with the town’s name set against a backdrop of trees and some mountains.
That about sums things up, except to note that residents are taxed one penny, the town has hired zero employees to work in its non-existent town hall, and the board’s meetings are held down the road at the county’s recreation center. Oh, and the town hires off-duty deputies to patrol on weekend evenings during the school year to help keep things under control, plus oversee general street maintenance. That includes fixing potholes.
Dawn Gilchrist-Young, a resident of the Village of Forest Hills who serves on the town’s planning board, said she doesn’t fear higher taxes if the annexation takes place.
“My primary reason for moving to Forest Hills was its promise of protection from thoughtless growth, but I think this would be thoughtful growth,” she wrote in an email. “As one of our council members has said, this will allow us a say in what happens around Forest Hills. It would seem a great deal is about to happen just a mile or so below us at the university.”
Justin Menickelli, an associate professor for WCU in the department of health, physical education and recreation, also lives in the Village of Forest Hills. He, like neighbor Gilchrist-Young, favors annexation as a means of controlling the growth that now seems inevitable. Inside town limits, ordinances can control the nature, scale and aesthetics of development.
“I think it is a great idea,” Menickelli said. “I know there are people who are against it, worried about corporate-type chains coming in. I just don’t think that will happen (on a large scale) — maybe a grocery, or a couple of restaurants.”
Gilchrist-Young also touched on the possibility of chain restaurants and businesses in Cullowhee. Unlike Menickelli, she fears the town center WCU Chancellor John Bardo wants to build — essentially, a new commercial district now lacking in the community — will be homogeneous, and without local flavor or character.
“WCU’s population is more a Zaxby’s/Target/Abercrombie population than they are farmers market and outdoor café population, so the planners and businesses will make decisions reflective of that, I’m afraid,” she said.
That is organic farmer Curt Collins’ fears, as well. He is in his third year of farming, running Avant Garden in Cullowhee. But Collins, though fervent and unapologetic in his support for local businesses over large, corporate ones, picked his words carefully.
“This is not ‘me versus the university,’” Collins said. “Ultimately, what the university desires is the end goal that all of us desire — the betterment of this area.”
On Saturday, a ‘Cullowhee Happening’ cultural event will take place at Avant Garden from 3 to 10 p.m. Collins also sees the event as a natural setting for people to discuss plans and share ideas about the future of their community.
What the future might hold
Town center, as conceived and promoted by Bardo, would primarily be a 35-acre commercial hub abutting N.C. 107. It would extend from the Fine and Performing Arts Center to the Ramsey Center. Sites would be leased to restaurants, coffee shops, bookstores and perhaps a specialty-style grocery store.
Bardo has promoted mixed-use development. So there might be condominiums as well as shops. University-type structures would be held to a minimum. WCU wants board members of the Village of Forest Hills to adopt the town-center plan in its entirety, a wholesale approval of the development plans that would be good for 20 years, so that individual businesses wouldn’t need to seek approval by the town.
“Some things I like about this, some I don’t,” said Bill Supinski, a senior English major at WCU who was sitting outside the Mad Batter restaurant one day last week. “It would be nice to be able to buy alcohol, but that’s not really necessary. Sylva is just 5 miles away.”
Supinski said he was attracted to WCU because it’s the antitheses of his hometown, Raleigh.
“I didn’t want to live like that anymore. If you want those kinds of places (corporate businesses, chain restaurants), you should move there,” he said.
Adam Bigelow, a senior in environmental science, said he wants Cullowhee to become a town “without corporations” that is a model of local sustainability.
Downstate, another town and university partnership
WCU, in not having an incorporated town to help provide that college-town feel, is in an unusual situation. But it isn’t unheard of for a university and a town to join in promoting mutual business interests. Take Elon and Elon University, for example.
Elon, founded in 1889, developed in concert with the university. Though they are two independent entities, the town exists because of the university, said Eric Townsend, director of Elon University’s news bureau.
“The town makes its own decisions,” he said. “That said, part of our strategic plan is to help bring in more private businesses.”
Currently, the town consists of some restaurants, a few boutiques and some retail establishments. It could be more vibrant, Townsend said.
“There’s a series of guidelines we’d like to see happen over the next 10 years,” he said.
The town’s leaders want the same as university leaders, said Elon Manager Mike Dula, whose daughter is Sylva Town Manager Adrienne Isenhower.
Elon and Elon University always have worked closely together, meeting the university’s needs for water and sewer, coordinating police forces, and other joint projects. But the 10-year plan is a high mark in that relationship. For the first time, the two are looking to jointly redevelop and revitalize the small downtown area.
To that end, a committee has been formed that is made up of a consultant, two aldermen, the town’s planner, the university’s vice president for business affairs, and the vice president’s assistant.
“This is to see how we to try to move forward from here,” Dula said.
Back home in the Village of Forest Hills, Mayor Wallace positively bristles over insinuations that WCU leaders are calling the shots when it comes to possible annexation by the town. That simply isn’t true, he said, the town board remains firmly in charge.
“The chancellor has assured us, it is 100-percent negotiable,” Wallace said. “And people have preconceived ideas about what the university will do. They think it will just be an ugly mess — that’s not true.”
What’s also not true, the mayor added, is any possibility that the Village of Forest Hills will get into the business of involuntary annexation — of anyone, anywhere, anytime. That includes along old N.C. 107, or Old Cullowhee Road, which has seen the group, Cullowhee Revitalization Endeavor, form for the purposes of rebuilding what, at one time, represented the main corridor into the university.
Cullowhee boosters believe incorporation is key to the successful redevelopment of Old Cullowee. This, unlike the university’s proposal, will mean private property owners will have to sign on to the idea.
“We will not force annexation,” Wallace said. “When old 107 is ready, they can petition us.”
Mary Jean Herzog, a WCU professor in the department of educational leadership and foundations, is careful to separate the work of the Cullowhee Revitalization Endeavor from the university.
“This is a community organization, not a university one,” she said. “We’re really just a group of people who got together because of a mutual interest.”
That is, to beautify and invigorate Old Cullowhee Road. There, now, are a few businesses, including restaurants, a tattoo parlor, body shop, an auto-repair shop. After discussing what it would take to revitalize the area — river walkways, streetlamps, a river park, sidewalks connecting students to businesses — members of the group realized they wouldn’t be able to tap sources of money, such as grants, without real-town status.
Efforts in the 1970s to incorporate had failed. But there have been no real attempts made since then, Herzog said.
“I would like for Cullowhee to be a town as nice as Sylva, or Weaverville. … Growth is going to come. Do we want to be in charge of our destiny, or wait for unbridled growth and development?” she said.
Village of Forest Hills resident Menickelli believes the potential for growth on Old Cullowhee Road is tremendous and supports the idea of his town underpinning the revitalization effort.
“I just want to applaud the efforts of the (revitalization) group,” he said. “Old Cullowhee needs to be cleaned up.”
Meanwhile, former Mayor Hooper worries about growth of the Village of Forest Hills. But she worries more about that growth being left unchecked and unplanned.
“I hope we won’t lose our identity as the little village,” Hooper said. “But I think it will probably be a good thing in the long run. For all of Western North Carolina, and particularly, WCU.”
Festival celebrates Cullowhee
Cullowhee Happening, a cultural event and festival, will be held from 3 to 10 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 11, at Avant Garden.
Three bands will perform. This is a fundraiser for the Cullowhee Revitalization Effort, a group dedicated to rebuilding Old Cullowhee. See this week’s Outdoors section for information on a paddling race held on the Cullowhee section of the Tuck in conjunction with the event.
‘America’s Got Talent’ winner Neal Boyd to perform at WCU
Pop-opera performer and 2008 winner of television show “America’s Got Talent,” Neal E. Boyd will open the 2010-11 Galaxy of Stars Series with a performance 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 28, at the Fine and Performing Arts Center on the Western Carolina University campus.
Opening the show will be WCU musical theater students, under the direction of program head Bradley Martin, performing selections from “I Love a Piano,” an Irving Berlin revue, and “Seven Deadly Sins,” an exploration of good and evil.
Boyd grew up overweight, biracial and bullied in a single-parent, financially stressed home in rural Missouri. Opera dropped into his life unexpectedly when a school project required his brother to listen to the Three Tenors.
“The moment I heard Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo and Jose Carreras, they just blew me away,” said Boyd, also a tenor, who as a youngster already was a fan of popular music.
Boyd performed throughout his childhood, college years at the University of Missouri, where he studied music and graduated in 2001, and beyond. As an adult, he always kept a day job; he was an insurance salesman when he began appearing on “America’s Got Talent,” a reality show on NBC television where contestants compete for a million-dollar prize and a show as the headliner on the Las Vegas Strip.
He released his debut album, “My American Dream” from Decca Records, in 2009, with selections that ranged from popular to show tunes to opera to hymns. In March, Boyd performed for Barack Obama when the president visited Missouri.
This is the sixth season of Galaxy of Stars performances, featuring world-class theater, music and dance staged in the FAPAC and presented by the College of Fine and Performing Arts. The second performance of the season is Friday, Sept. 24, by the Hunt Family, a mother, father and seven children who perform Irish dance and play original, Celtic, bluegrass, inspirational and popular tunes.
Ticket prices for the Boyd performance, sponsored by Holiday Inn Express in Dillsboro, are $25 for adults; $20 for people 60 years and older and WCU faculty and staff; $15 per person for groups of 15 or more; and $5 for students and children. Subscriptions for the entire Galaxy of Stars Series still are available and cost $130 ($40 for students and children).
828.227.2479 or www.wcu.edu/fapac.
Federal money to outfit community college with green teaching tools
A $300,000 federal grant awarded to three community colleges will help ready a Western North Carolina workforce for the rapidly growing green technology field.
Some 400 students are expected to enroll in programs supported by the Appalachian Regional Commission grant at Haywood, Southwestern and Tri-County community colleges.
Since 1998, clean energy jobs in North Carolina have grown by over 15 percent, while jobs in other fields have increased by only 6 percent. Officials say focusing on green job training is already a must in preparing students headed into the working world.
“It is incredibly important for the future of our state and country,” said Janet Burnette, interim president at Southwestern Community College.
Donna Tipton-Rogers, Tri-County college’s president, said this particular field was especially relevant with Murphy located close to major auto manufacturers in the South.
“It fits in great,” said Tipton-Rogers.
At a press conference held at Western Carolina University last week, the $300,000 check was officially presented to the Southwestern Planning & Economic Development Commission, which will work with the community colleges to develop the training program.
Rose Johnson, president of HCC, said the ARC money would be put to work as soon as the next semester begins. In all, $794,000 will be invested in the green training initiative, with local sources making up the difference.
The Appalachian Regional Commission works to promote economic development in 13 Appalachian states.
With a persistently high unemployment rate in the area, ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl Gohl pointed out the important role of higher education in bringing prosperity here.
“In an economic recession, one point that always comes out is the level of education has a direct impact on the level of income,” said Gohl. “It’s essential for a competitive workforce to be well-trained and well-educated.”
U.S. Congressman Heath Shuler emphasized the importance of not only creating green technology, but also creating the workforce necessary to implement it locally.
“We develop it, we produce it, we sell it — all in America,” said Shuler.
Governor Bev Perdue added that the grant would help bring Western North Carolina jobseekers up to speed.
“The world has morphed,” said Perdue. “We have a really deep and abiding commitment to going green.”
Green funding for colleges
The $300,000 Appalachian Regional Commission grant will help three community colleges expand training in green jobs. Here are some ideas on how they plan to use it:
• Haywood Community College plans to use its share of the grant to fund equipment and instruction for low impact development, green building technology and weatherization.
• Southwestern Community College will focus on low impact development, alternative fuels, weatherization and sustainable energy.
• Tri-County Community College will invest its grant on teaching students to work on hybrid and electric vehicles.
WCU unveils plans for Town Center
Western Carolina University hopes to create a new commercial hub to bolster life on campus and serve the larger Cullowhee community.
The university wants to carve out 35 acres from the main campus to create a “Town Center.” Building sites would be leased to restaurants, coffee shops, bookstores — and ideally even a specialty-style grocery store, according to WCU Chancellor John Bardo.
As the name implies, Town Center could fill a void in Cullowhee’s current makeup.
Convincing businesses and developers to come to Cullowhee at set up shop in the new Town Center will obviously be the biggest challenge, especially given the economy. Private investors willing to wade into the commercial marketplace are testing the water cautiously and choosing their new ventures wisely.
But not to worry, Bardo said.
“All economic downturns sooner or later go away, and this one will as well,” Bardo said.
A conceptual vision for Town Center was unveiled at a meeting last week as part of a pitch by the university community to the nearby town of Forest Hills to expand its town limits. Being part of an incorporated town is essential to pulling off the Town Center development, according to Bardo (see related article).
Far from being an actual plan, the illustrations were merely intended to sell people on an example of what Town Center “could be,” said Chadwick Roberson, an architect and principal at PBCL Architecture.
The university’s next step is to hire a consulting firm that would delve into specifics: what exactly would buildings look like, how would they be laid out, what types of businesses would be recruited, and so on.
Bardo envisions a mixed-use development with condos as well as shops. Town Center may house a few university functions, like the graduate school or admissions office. But there would be no classroom buildings or dorms, for example.
Bardo said the university would ask Forest Hills to adopt wholesale the university’s design for Town Center. A blanket approval for Town Center as a “planned unit development” within Forest Hills would be good for 20 years, eliminating the need for each new business or building to get individual approval from the town.
Curt Collins, owner of a small organic farm in Cullowhee called Avant Garden, questioned whether the Town Center would become a repository for corporate chain stores.
“I don’t want to see Applebee’s or Chili’s or even McDonald’s,” said Collins said.
Bardo countered that those may be precisely the businesses that could afford to build stores and pay rent, and so barring them from Town Center would be unwise.
“We wouldn’t do that. We couldn’t agree to that as a university,” Bardo said.
Forest Hills and CuRvE could fulfill Cullowhee’s potential
A meeting that could lead to a completely new personality for the Cullowhee area will be finished by the time this hits the presses, but I’m hoping that the meeting gives fresh momentum to efforts to transform the Western Carolina University community.
A meeting was held last night (Aug. 3) between the Cullowhee Revitalization Endeavor (CuRvE) and the leaders and citizens of the town of Forest Hills. The Cullowhee group presented a formal proposal to Forest Hills to annex a portion of the community near the college. The move would effectively create a college town, putting portions of the Cullowhee community into the Forest Hills town limits. The move could pave the way for alcohol sales in bars and restaurants, and would offer strong land-use planning and access to state and federal grant money.
Such a move would be a stretch for both Forest Hills and the university community. Forest Hills has only 347 registered voters and was created as an enclave from the university. It is a haven where residents try to keep out some of the problems associated with college students, like loud parties and single-family residences crowded with 10 students and 10 cars parked in the street and yard.
Annexing around the university would give Forest Hills control of its destiny. It could create commercial and residential areas, working with the university as it plans for growth and change. There are lots of examples — Chapel Hill (UNC), Boone (ASU) and Greenville (ECU) — of small North Carolina towns working hand-in-hand with the local universities to create unique, livable and cool college towns. This is an opportunity to start down a similar path.
For many WCU professors and administrators, creating a lively business district around the college has been a long-time dream. Brian Railsback, an English professor and head of the Honors College, said he envisions old Cullowhee with new businesses and walkways and paths along the Tuckasegee River. Almost everyone who has ever spent time at WCU has had similar thoughts, imagining what old Cullowhee could be with some fresh investment and new businesses.
There is apparently a lot of support from the university for incorporating areas around WCU. The college town feel would certainly help attract students and professors, along with giving Jackson County and Forest Hills new sources of sales tax money.
In the end, this is really about fulfilling potential that has languished for decades. Forest Hills, WCU and the larger Cullowhee community are great places just as they are. But they could be much, much more. Here’s hoping this new dialogue opens some doors that have been shut for way too long.