New festival director seeks a larger audience for Maggie Valley

The hunt for a festival director for Maggie Valley is officially over.

Beating out 22 other applicants, Audrey Hager took over the position in mid-December.

With Hager at the helm of the town’s struggling festival grounds, Maggie Valley is hoping to break its cycle of fleeting festival directors, who failed to bring lasting success to the venue.

Taxpayers subsidized roughly half of the festival grounds’ $1 million cost, aiming to reap a windfall from tourism business brought in by events held there.

When the last festival director, who lasted a mere three months, was fired in May, the town decided to hold off on filling the position to see if events still materialized.

The laissez-faire attitude garnered criticism from many business owners who rely on special events to bring tourists and customers to their doors.

Town Manager Tim Barth said the process wasn’t unnecessarily delayed since the town wanted to be careful with its next pick.

“We wanted to get somebody on as quickly as we could,” said Barth, who hopes Hager will line up events for those weekends that are still freed up for next summer.

Hager said while she’s heard a lot of negativity about the festival grounds, she wants to play a positive role in Maggie Valley. Hager had nothing critical to say about her predecessor.

“I’m not here to sling mud,” said Hager. “All I can say is he’s he, and I’m me ... maybe it wasn’t the right fit, but now they have the right fit.”

Hager hopes to not only line up events for some of the gaps in next summer’s festival season but to also pursue a long-term strategy.

“Trying to fill in holes for the calendar for this year [and] trying to plant seeds and develop events for 2010, 2011, 2012,” said Hager.

Hager’s extensive experience in lining up entertainment will certainly assist the endeavor.

She has helped promote nearly every kind of event, including celebrity golf, 6,000-seat concerts, fishing tournaments, hunting events, car giveaways, sock hops, old car shows, billiard tournaments, live boxing, tough man contests, mixed martial arts, and downhill skiing events in Tahoe.

“I’ve probably done 300 events a year,” said Hager, who has collaborated with musicians like the Doobie Brothers, Rick Springfield and Alice Cooper.

Her most recent position was entertainment manager at Harrah’s in southern Indiana.

Hager said she plans to use the connections she already has to line up events in Maggie Valley

Last week, Hager made contact with a friend who organizes such mega events as Lollapalooza and the Austin City Limits festival, who got her in touch with the organizer for MerleFest in Wilkesboro.

Hager said it’s relationships like that that will give her an in with the promoter crowd in the Southeast.

In the near future, Hager would like to organize a fam, or familiarity tour, to bring corporate meeting planners and other promoters to Maggie to see the venue.

Hager will also help the town get its promotional DVD together, making sure it’s properly geared to a promoter audience.

Changing focus

Hager said her priority is to bring business to the town through the festival grounds but to do that, she must first lay a foundation by getting the word out to promoters.

She would like to get Maggie Valley featured in trade magazines dedicated to promoting festivals and special events, as well as on the Web.

In the future, Hager would like to pursue a signature event for Maggie Valley, similar to Folkmoot in Waynesville, Bel Chere in Asheville, and Merlefest in Wilkesboro.

“We could work with Asheville so we’re not competing directly with Asheville, work with Waynesville so it’s not the same time as Folkmoot,” said Hager. “We don’t want to compete with those. We want to support their events, and we want them to support ours as well.”

But unlike previous festival directors, Hager’s priority is not to spend all day brainstorming ideas for events.

“The sky’s the limit on the type of events,” said Hager. “We can have all the ideas for events in the world, but if we don’t have somebody to pay to bring the event to Maggie Valley, then we don’t have an event.”

Instead, Hager said her chief strategy is getting the word out to promoters about Maggie Valley, which she considers Western North Carolina’s best-kept secret.

When Hager’s husband transferred to Harrah’s in Cherokee three years ago, Hager made frequent trips to the area. At that point, she didn’t even realize Maggie Valley was separate from Waynesville.

Hager said she would like to do a better job of letting people know about Maggie Valley, which she said is central, beautiful, and has a lot to offer.

“When I think of this area, I don’t think Maggie Valley. I think Asheville, I think Blue Ridge Parkway,” said Hager. “I think where we missed the boat is letting people know about this location.”

According to Hager, Maggie Valley’s target tourist is an active babyboomer, who enjoys the outdoors and riding motorcycles on the area’s curvy roads.

Part of the process in attracting such a clientele is working closely with business owners. At first, Hagar hoped to go door to door to meet local entrepreneurs, but the town is planning to organize a meet-and-greet with the business community in January.

“I think we can all work together,” said Hager, who would also like to cooperate with venues at Eaglenest, Harrah’s, and the Biltmore Estate.

“I don’t know if they’ll partner with us, but I can certainly try,” said Hager.

Hager was born in New Hampshire, spent 20 years in Lake Tahoe, Calif. and most recently came from southern Illinois, near Louisville.

Slump in construction leads Maggie to can building inspector

The Town of Maggie Valley decided Monday to lay off its building inspector after already trimming 10 hours off his weekly schedule earlier this year.

Town Manager Tim Barth said there was a strong economic case to discontinue the town’s building inspections department since the county provides the same service.

Smaller towns often opt to go through a county building inspector rather than employing their own. Waynesville and Canton have their own inspections departments, but Sylva and Bryson City do not.

After the recession hit and building activity plummeted, the town has had to increasingly subsidize the department.

Barth estimates that the town will spend $50,000 to prop up the department in the 2009-2010 fiscal year — a number that has been on the rise as fees from building permits have dropped. In the 2007-2008 fiscal year, the town spent $37,000 more than it brought in through fees, and $40,000 in 2008-2009.

“It’s just too expensive to continue to have,” said Barth. “Building activity has dropped off significantly in the last couple of years. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to justify having a position where the person doesn’t have as much work to do.”

Barth said the building activity may pick up, but the town may never do building inspections again if the new arrangement works out well.

Alderman Colin Edwards said the option of hiring another building inspector is not off the table in the long-term.

“If we see the need to hire another building inspector, we can do that, but right now, times are tough and we need to save the taxpayers all we can,” said Edwards.

Maggie building inspector Ron Mercier said the county could not provide the same level of service.

“I’m here all the time,” said Mercier. “I provide a much better service than the county ever could because I’m local. I care more about Maggie Valley than the county does.”

According to Mercier, the board is doing a disservice to the town by eliminating his position.

“They’re not lowering the taxes but are taking away services,” Mercier said.


Conflict of interest?

Mercier’s supporters suspect personal motives are a factor in the town’s move, but Edwards disagrees.

The town’s motives are strictly economic, he said.

According to Edwards, the decision had nothing to do with a complaint against the building inspector brought to the town in October. The decision to cut Mercier’s hours came in July.

“We’ve been thinking about this, probably four or five months,” said Edwards.

The October complaint was brought forward by Jim Redmond, who owns Leatherwood Cottages, where Edwards has a cottage.

Redmond demanded the town reimburse him for $300 after Mercier mistakenly told him to remove and reinstall wiring for a pavilion at Leatherwood Cottages.

According to town minutes, Redmond said he’d also heard several complaints against Mercier and asked the town to let Mercier go.

Alderwoman Saralyn Price said at the meeting that Barth should take over the matter since it was a personnel issue, which is usually handled by the town manager.

Edwards claims the wiring issue played no role whatsoever in the town’s move toward shutting down the inspections department. The cost, which was split up among 17 cottage owners, was not significant.

“That ain’t never cost nobody nothing,” said Edwards.

Edwards repeated that only the recession was driving the decision.

“We’re losing so much money having a building inspector, and we’re trying to trim the fat,” Edwards said.


Defending the inspector

While contractors in other towns usually complain about building inspectors who help enforce codes, those in Maggie Valley actually came to Mercier’s defense.

Several spoke up at last week’s town meeting to ask the town to keep the building inspections department.

“Once the economy starts picking up, we’re going to get slammed here,” said Torry Pinter, a general contractor who spoke at the meeting.

“Just because the economy’s down and the building is down...using personal vendettas or personal problems as a reason to get rid of Ron is not right,” said Burton Edwards, a planning board member and Colin Edwards’ cousin.

Burton added Maggie Valley had no right to annex territory if it did not make an effort to support code enforcement.

“If we’re going to annex and we’re going to grow, we’re going to need a building inspector,” said Burton.

According to Burton, getting rid of the building inspector while there’s no building activity is akin to getting rid of a fire truck because there were no fires last year.

“If it’s a money issue, find a way to keep him please,” said Burton.

Meanwhile Kyle Edwards, owner of the Stompin’ Ground and Colin Edwards’ uncle, said the town could come up with the money to support the department if it wanted to.

Kyle added that the building inspector helps homebuyers, home builders, the town board, the mayor, and everyone else in town.

Sometimes, people get upset when the building inspector does his job and goes by the books, Kyle said.

According to Colin Edwards, the primary responsibility for enforcing codes rests with Nathan Clark, the town planner.

“We put that on Ron to help Nathan,” said Colin.

The town board held a meeting on Monday and went into closed session to discuss personnel issues.

After coming out of closed session, board members engaged in a “brief discussion” and passed a motion to move forward with eliminating the building inspection department, Barth said.

The town board was careful to not discuss the topic in closed session, according to Barth.

According to N.C. Open Meetings Law, an elected board can discuss an employee’s performance in closed session, but they can’t talk about general issues of town operations. Barth said the town did not discuss eliminating the building inspections department in closed session.

Unpaid Ghost Town workers were warned pay might not come

Ghost Town in the Sky, an amusement park in Maggie Valley, failed to pay employees for their final two weeks of work before shutting down for the winter.

While most employees were told upfront that they might not be paid their full wages immediately and were given the choice to work or not, the company could still be in violation of state labor laws.

“The law says they must pay all accrued wages to employees on the regularly scheduled payday,” said Darrell Sanders, supervisor for Wage and Hour Bureau with the N.C. Department of Labor. “Even with the employees’ agreement, nobody can waive the law. As soon as midnight ticked by on payday, the company automatically went into violation of the law and will be until the employees are paid.”

CEO Steve Shiver said the company still plans to pay employees what they are owed.

“They will be paid as quickly as possible. I am doing everything I can every day to make sure that takes place,” said Shiver.

In the meantime, there may be little the employees can do about it other than wait. Ghost Town is operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy with hopes of reorganizing and regaining its footing. Workers who are not paid by an employer usually take their complaints to the labor department, but the department has no jurisdiction when bankruptcy proceedings are in play.

“It is a large wrench to throw in the machinery,” Sanders said.

Ghost Town filed for bankruptcy early this year. 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, including local contractors, electricians, media outlets and equipment rental companies.

Shiver held a meeting with employees going into the final few weeks of the season in October to fill them in on the financial status of the amusement park.

When Shiver leveled with workers and told them cash flow was tight, it came as no surprise. A few times during the year, the park couldn’t make payroll on Friday and instead relied on revenue from weekend ticket sales to pay employees the following Monday. The park eventually moved payday from Friday to Monday on a permanent basis, according to employees. Even then, the park didn’t always make full payroll, and would only give employees a partial paycheck and make up the difference the following Monday after another weekend of revenue came in.

At the meeting, Shiver gave employees two choices: shut the park down early or remain open the rest of the October. If they stayed open, however, there was a chance they wouldn’t bring in enough revenue to pay everyone on time.

Shiver then left the room while employees voted with a show of hands whether to keep working. The vote was unanimous.

“We all knew there was a possibility we may not get paid,” said David Aldridge, a Maggie resident who worked at Ghost Town. “We were willing to risk it.”

Shiver said the dedication of employees is remarkable.

“I have such great employees,” Shiver said. “It shows the dedication of all of us, including myself, to make sure Maggie Valley and Ghost Town in the Sky and all that goes with it survives. I am very humbled by their support and continued efforts.”

While Shiver never suggested employees would be volunteering their time in exchange for no pay, that was certainly in the back of their minds, Aldridge said.

“We were asked if we were willing to take half our paychecks now and half later,” Aldridge said. “Nobody ever agreed to not get paid. Everybody expected to get their last paycheck.”

The paychecks haven’t been forthcoming yet, but Aldridge said he isn’t mad. He said most employees understand and care deeply about the park and want to help it succeed. Aldridge said Shiver was a good leader and an inspiration for employees.

“He was out there working every day as hard as everybody else. He was trying to do all he could to keep Ghost Town going,” Aldridge said.

Shiver has exemplified the all-hands-on-deck attitude that allowed Ghost Town to make it through the year.

“I bussed tables, I swept floors, I blew leaves off the streets to make sure our guests could enjoy themselves,” Shiver said.

Not all employees were at the meeting when Shiver leveled with the state and the informal vote was held, however. The meeting was billed as a non-mandatory staff meeting and the topic wasn’t shared in advance, so Ron Coates, a worker who lives in Hot Springs, opted not to make the hour-long drive on his day off to attend.

No one in management ever told him what had transpired or warned him that he may not be paid if he kept working.

“Nobody ever said we might not get paid,” Coates said.

Coates has filed a claim with the bankruptcy court for $386 after being told by the state Labor Department that was his only recourse.

Meanwhile, water to the amusement park has been shut off due to failure to pay bills, according to the Maggie Valley Sanitary District.

Maggie ABC store captures share of Waynesville business

The recession has taken a toll on liquor sales at the ABC stores in Maggie Valley and Waynesville, in turn reducing the profits paid out to the towns.

Rather than curtailing their intake, customers are buying cheaper brands, according to Joy Rasmus, manager of the Waynesville ABC store.

“It is an easy thing to cut back on. It is a luxury item,” Rasmus said.

Meanwhile, fewer tourists during the recession hurt sales at Maggie’s main ABC store. Austin Pendley, the chairman of the Maggie ABC board, cited “the lack of full motel rooms” as the main factor behind a drop in sales.

Maggie Valley’s ABC store has noticed a further decline in business following the rockslide on I-40, which closed part of the interstate and discouraged travel.

“We could tell an immediate difference,” Pendley said.

That said, the rockslide occurred just when the tourist season was winding down anyway, making it difficult to determine what can be blamed on the rockslide versus the standard drop off Maggie sees this time of year anyway.

“There are too many variables this year,” Pendley said, adding that sales will pick up again when ski season arrives in full force.

Maggie is also bracing for a potential loss in ABC revenue with the advent of liquor at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Hotel. The hotel at Harrah’s began selling alcohol in restaurants and bars this fall, with hopes of eventually offering it inside the casino itself.

Maggie’s ABC store had been a favorite stop for those en route to Harrah’s.

“It will definitely have an effect. There’s no doubt about that, but to what degree I do not know,” Pendley said.

Maggie’s ABC store did a brisk business in miniature airplane bottles, which gamblers would tuck into their pockets and purses before heading over the mountain to the casino.

If and when Harrah’s begins offering alcohol to gamblers on the casino floor, Pendley expects a drop off in sales of airplane bottles.

Turf wars

In a tactical move to grow revenues, Maggie Valley opened a second ABC store this year aimed at capturing business from Waynesville. Maggie’s second store is on the outer fringes of town — more than a mile outside the town proper. Maggie annexed a satellite tract into its town limits to strategically build a new store between Maggie and Waynesville on U.S. 19 in Dellwood.

“Building store number two has been very gratifying,” Pendley said.

The second store likely pulled some business away from Maggie’s existing ABC store.

“We knew some portion would be siphoned from store number one. We don’t know how much,” Pendley said, citing the myriad variables at play this year.

Since Maggie’s new store opened, revenue at Waynesville’s ABC profits have taken a dive (see chart). While Maggie ABC revenue has grown by an additional $30,000 to $50,000 a month since the opening of the new store, Waynesville’s has dropped by a comparable amount.

The drop in revenue came as no surprise to Joy Rasmus, the manager of the Waynesville ABC store.

“We were expecting an impact, but we didn’t know how much,” Rasmus said.

Waynesville once captured a large share of the liquor purchases in the county by default. Residents from the county’s outlying areas come to Waynesville for their grocery shopping. While in the neighborhood, they would stop by the ABC store.

But Maggie’s new store — stationed practically at Waynesville’s doorstep — is snagging a share of what Waynesville once got.

It’s particularly true for those making a special trip from places like Lake Junaluska and Jonathan Creek.

“If you were just coming to town to buy alcohol, it is easier to stop at Maggie’s new store,” Rasmus said.

In response, Waynesville’s ABC Board is contemplating a new store of its own: one in the vicinity of the new Super Wal-Mart. Super Wal-Mart pulls in a huge volume of traffic, which Rasmus would like to capitalize on.

The current ABC store in Waynesville has been there since 1967.

“Absolutely we’ve outgrown it,” Rasmus said.

The Waynesville ABC Board is keeping an eye out for property to build on in the Super Wal-Mart vicinity, but there’s nothing concrete in the works yet.

“In a perfect world, it would be nice to keep two stores,” Rasmus said.

Opening a new ABC store isn’t cheap, Pendley said. There’s the cost of land and construction, but there’s also start up costs like shelving and a computer system. The upfront inventory cost to stock the store was “overwhelming,” Pendley added.

“We had no idea that there was going to be a recession or we probably wouldn’t have done it at this time, but we were too far committed not to go ahead with it,” Pendley said of the second store.

But Pendley is glad they did. The second store has already proven lucrative and will continue to pay off for the town, which reaps the profits from ABC operations.

“The whole purpose is to get more revenue to keep down taxes,” Pendley said of their mission.

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.”

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