Bruce O’Connell was pretty surprised to see Blue Ridge Parkway Superintendent Mark Woods appear at his door Sept. 8. The Pisgah Inn owner had submitted his bid for a contract renewal to operate the inn off the Blue Ridge Parkway weeks earlier and had expected to be holding his breath on the outcome for quite a while.
But Woods had come to say that, congratulations, O’Connell had won another 10 years.
“I’m not really thinking right now,” O’Connell said when asked his thoughts on the renewal. “I’m just kind of soaking it in. I’m happy, the crew’s happy, word is spreading. It’s all good.”
O’Connell first came to the inn, located off mile 408.6 of the Parkway, in 1978 when he bought in with his parents, and he’s been through two contract renewals with the National Park Service since. This time, though, he’d been fearful of losing out to one of the big concessions companies that, in his view, have been eating up more and more local operators. He even hired a consultant to write his proposal this time, paying a sum that he would only define as “big bucks.”
“Mr. O’Connell and his family have provided services to millions of visitors over 35 years on the Parkway,” Wood said in a press release. “We are pleased that Parkway Inn, Inc. will continue this rich tradition.”
The inn includes a 51-room lodge, restaurant, gift shop, country store and employee housing. The contract awards O’Connell management of the inn for 10 more years, through the end of 2024.
The bid process is closed, and the Park Service would not say whether any other bidders submitted a proposal. Regardless, O’Connell is looking forward to a return to business as usual.
“I want to get back to normal and doing what we do right now and not worry about all this crazy stuff,” O’Connell said.
The Smoky Mountain News’ cover story on the contract renewal is online at www.smokymountainnews.com/news/item/14046-a-concessionaire-s-conundrum-pisgah-inn-owner-hoping-nps-contract-renewal-yields-10-more-years-of-local-ownership.