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Ghost Town seeks ride inspections

A team of state inspectors will arrive at Ghost Town in the Sky amusement park on Monday, May 18, in hopes of getting the rides and chairlift certified for the anticipated opening day of May 22.

Ghost Town barely made the cut-off for requesting an inspection in time to open, and will leave the state inspectors pushed to get it done time.

“To be honest it is going to be a really tough week for us,” said Jonathan Brooks, chief of the N.C. Elevator & Amusement Device Bureau.

Brooks will dedicate a team of five or six inspectors to Ghost Town for the week. The chairlift will be most time consuming, with inspectors physically assessing all 105 chairs, the structural integrity of the support towers and the mechanical functions that run the chair lift. They will also witness the evacuation procedure. The 10 rides on top of the mountain will take less time.

“Barring that we don’t have any unforeseen issues, I feel fairly comfortable with our guys on those rides for a week, the chances are pretty good,” Brooks said of getting the inspections done in time.

Ghost Town has also requested a ride inspection of the roller coaster, which has been out of operation while being rebuilt. The coaster inspection is far more involved.

“It will be a tough, tough haul to get the coaster done. I professionally don’t see it happening by opening day,” Brooks said. It could be done by the following weekend, however, if all goes well and nothing needs fixing or altering.

Some steps in the chairlift and coaster inspection have already been checked off. The chairlift cable has already been certified, as well as aspects of the roller coaster car, including the lap restraint system. The train car is still at the manufacturers in Tennessee, where testing was being conducted, but should arrive at the park by week’s end, Brooks said. Some portions of the track inspection have been completed by a private ride engineer and is supposed to be in the mail to Brooks.

Maggie Valley aldermen will hold a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 14, on whether to loan Ghost Town $200,000. The amusement park is currently in Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Ghost Town files financial statements with bankruptcy court

Ghost Town in the Sky owners paid themselves nearly $25,000 over two weeks in March despite the company being in bankruptcy.

The Maggie Valley amusement park filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in mid-March with the aim of reorganizing, opening the park and gradually paying off debts. Ghost Town has a $2.5 million trail of unpaid bills owed to more than 200 companies. Dozens of local businesses are among those owed money. The company also owes around $9.5 million in mortgages.

As part of the bankruptcy process, Ghost Town is required to file a detailed picture of their finances with the bankruptcy court every quarter, showing all revenue and expenses. The filing for the first quarter of this year only contained two weeks, from when Ghost Town filed bankruptcy in mid-March to the end of that same month.

The filings show nearly $25,000 was paid to Ghost Town CEO Steve Shiver and a company that Shiver is president of, Global Management Services. Shiver personally got $1,657 as a salary, while $23,000 was paid to his company. Shiver’s company is billed as a professional services company and dates to Shiver’s former life in the Miami area.

While Ghost Town had launched a campaign to sell advance tickets to the theme park, sales netted only $1,659 for the reporting period, according to the filing.

So far a hunt for a cash infusion to help the park get on its feet has not been successful. Ghost Town has been unable to get traditional bank loans, or strike a deal with last-resort lenders. Appeals to the county economic development and tourism entities have not been fruitful either.

Ghost Town has asked the town of Maggie Valley to provide a loan of $200,000. Town leaders are holding a public hearing on the issue at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 14. The town began accepting written comments on the issue via email last week to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Shiver has rented out the Maggie Valley pavilion from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 12, for a public event presumably intended to rally support for the amusement park’s request. He is also going door to door soliciting public support.Shiver did not return calls seeking comment for this article.

Ghost Town and alderman at loggerheads

Ghost Town CEO Steve Shiver threatened to sue Maggie Valley Alderman Colin Edwards during a town meeting this week.

Edwards attempted to speak out against Shiver’s request for a $200,000 loan from the town. But Shiver objected and refused to let Edwards finish speaking.

“I raise my objections,” Shiver said, cutting Edwards off. “Gentlemen, lady, I mean no disrespect but there are serious issues of conflict we have raised through our attorneys. I think in the next few weeks you will see some legal action.”

Edwards is part owner of Caroline-A-Contracting company, which built a retaining wall at Ghost Town. Edwards’ company filed a lien against Ghost Town after it failed to pay its full bill. Ghost Town in turn contested the claim, saying the retaining wall cracked. Edwards said the crack is due to a leaking water line in the hillside. Shiver claims it’s due to faulty work.

Shiver asked the town to bar Edwards from voting on the loan and from participating in any discussion on Ghost Town. However, while Edwards and Shiver may not get along, Edwards does not meet the litmus test for a financial conflict of interest that would bar him from voting. The only reason Edwards could be legally barred from voting is if he stands to gain financially from his vote, which he doesn’t, according to state statutes and Town Attorney Chuck Dickson.

Shiver claims that Edwards cannot render an impartial vote on anything pertaining to Ghost Town, however, and if he does so, Ghost Town will be denied its right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.

Edwards said he intends to vote, however, and will vote “no” to the loan.

“They are just bullying, and I don’t bully real good at all,” Edwards said. “I am an elected official for Maggie Valley. I will vote and they can charge me if they want.”

Before Shiver cut Edwards off at the meeting, Edwards questioned the validity of Shiver’s claims that the park’s roller coaster was on track to pass inspections and open for the season. Edwards said he called the state’s chief amusement ride inspector before the meeting and learned that Ghost Town has not yet requested an official inspection.

Shiver said he would “not tolerate nor allow phone calls” by Edwards to the state amusement ride division. Shiver suggested Edwards was trying to sabotage Ghost Town by calling the state.

The Smoky Mountain News had called the same state ride inspector earlier in the day and was given the same information as Edwards — that Ghost Town has not yet made a formal request for ride inspections, for either the chairlift or the roller coaster. The information is public record and can be requested by anyone.

That said, there have been lots of verbal communication, emails and progress updates on the rides, according to Jonathan Brooks, Elevator & Amusement Device Bureau Chief with the state.

“I know they are working very diligently to put something together for us to come up and start inspecting. I know they are making headway,” Brooks said. There is still a big checklist for the roller coaster before it’s ready, however, Brooks said.

Entertainment options abound in Maggie Valley

Maggie Valley has a year-round of population of only 607, and its main drag contains dozens of 1960s-era mom and pop hotels, a Wild West theme park, and shops selling fudge and moonshine jelly. All these business, however, share space with chart-topping musicians and world champion dancers.

Maggie Valley may be small, but the diversity of entertainment to be found here rivals that of a much larger city.


Clogging’s premier title

Twice a year, some of the fastest feet on the planet descend on Maggie Valley to compete in the World Clogging Championships. This is the number one event in the sport of clogging, a form of dance brought to Appalachia by Scots-Irish settlers. Cloggers from all over the country come to tap, shuffle and step their way to the national title.

The Clogging Championships are held at the Stomping Grounds, a barn-style venue that doubles as a sort of museum for the sport. Over the course of three nights the first weekend in May (1-3), elaborately costumed dancers from ages 2 to 82 compete in teams of up to 40 in front of a panel of judges. At times, it can be tense — after all, the winner gets to perform on the biggest stage of all at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn.

“It’s a lot of mental anticipation and excitement,” says Kyle Edwards, owner of the Stomping Grounds and a clogger himself. “You never know what’s coming up next.”

Clogging at this level is extremely technical, and footwork is key. During one part of the competition, judges don’t even look at the dancers — they turn their backs to listen for the precision and quickness of foot taps. At this point, costumes matter little; dancers better have the skills to impress.

The Clogging competition takes place May 1-3. Tickets are just $10 for adults, $6 for kids. The Stomping Ground is also open from 8 to 11 p.m. on Saturdays from May to October for live country and bluegrass music.


Chart-topping bluegrass

There’s more fun to be found just down the street at the Maggie Valley Opry House. Throw open the doors to this old warehouse, and you’ll see two gold records tacked to the wall. This is the home of Raymond Fairchild, the only banjo picker ever whose instrumental track sold a million records.

Fairchild, a Maggie Valley native, has played with Johnny Cash, Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson and countless other recognizable names. He performed at the Grand Ole Opry for years. Now he can be found seven nights a week, May through October, at a much smaller, simpler Opry in his hometown, joined by his backup band.

Fairchild built the Opry 22 years ago in an effort to preserve the bluegrass genre with which he’s made his name.

“I just wanted to keep mountain music alive,” Fairchild says.

Seeing Fairchild perform is an intimate experience. The venue is small and informal, with folding chairs for seats.

Check out Fairchild’s lightning-fast picking skills seven nights a week starting Memorial Day weekend. Entry is $12, or $15 if he has a bigger band joining him.


Family-friendly fun

Also working to preserve the music of the mountains is Eaglenest, a 900-seat venue built in 2003. Here you’ll find national country, gospel, bluegrass and classic rock acts, many of whom have been chart-toppers at one time.

“We pride ourselves on getting high-quality, family appropriate entertainment in a first-class setting,” says Selina Keller, Eaglenest General Manager.

This season, Eaglenest will welcome the Bellamy Brothers and Gene Watson. The venue consistently offers some of the largest acts to be found in Western North Carolina.

“We really want to put Maggie on the map,” Keller says. “I don’t know of any other venue in the area that offers this entertainment on a consistent basis.”

Eaglenest is aiming to keep its ticket prices affordable, so guests can have a good time even in a down economy.

Eaglenest also holds performances on its outdoor stage, which seats 3,500. Guests can bring a blanket or lawn chair, kick back, and enjoy the temperate mountain nights.

For a schedule and ticket information, visit www.eaglesnest.com.


Country hoedown

Want to get your feet moving? Head on down to Maggie Valley’s Diamond K Dance Ranch for some line dancing action to the tune of the Deep South Band.

Band member and guitar player Terry Rogers opened up the Dance Ranch after years of touring all over the country.

“All of us were pickers, and we wanted to settle down,” Rogers says.

The band plays top 40 and classic country tunes every Saturday night from May to October. It’s the only all-country venue in Maggie Valley.

Make sure to wear leather bottom boots for a spin on the maple hardwood dance floor. Need some practice? Line dance lessons are offered at 7 p.m., an hour before the band gets on. The whole thing wraps up at midnight. Admission is $8, and that includes the lesson.

Starting in mid-May, the Dance Ranch offers free bluegrass music from a variety of local bands every Friday night from 7 to 9 p.m. For more information, visit www.diamondkdanceranch.com.


The classics come to life

For something a bit different, check out the Carolina Nights musical dinner theater. The venue opens its evening with a well-rounded meal served cafeteria style by servers who later appear on stage as the show’s performers.

As the theater’s U.S.O. themed show “Sound Off,” opens, performers salute those who historically have helped entertain the troops. Singers and dancers sporting zoot suits bring the music of the 1940s to life with rousing versions of, “Boogey Woogey Bugle Boy,” “Something’s Gotta Give,” and “Clang Clang Went the Trolley.”

At another point in the show, a Betty Boop look-alike takes the stage to sing, “I Wanna be Loved by You,” and later, a Marilyn Monroe performer breathily sings, “Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend.”

Dinner theater shows begin at 6:15 p.m. and are held most Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights with additional shows on occasion. A full schedule is available online at wwwmaggievalleyusa.com and reservations may be made by calling 828.926.8822.

Maggie to hold public hearing on Ghost Town loan

Officials at Ghost Town in the Sky continued to pressure Maggie Valley leaders this week to pony up a $200,000 loan to help the beleaguered theme park get up and running.

In a special meeting Monday (April 27), Ghost Town CEO Steve Shiver said the loan could make or break whether Ghost Town reopens this summer.

“We are in a tedious and precarious time. We wouldn’t be here unless we were at the end of our rope,” Shiver said. “My whole livelihood is at stake and my whole future is at stake.”

Town aldermen expressed reservations about putting taxpayer money on the line. While hotel, restaurant and gift shop owners in Maggie are lobbying for the loan, aldermen said they also have to consider the average residents not engaged in the tourism business.

“We are looking out for the entire valley — all the taxpayers. Your side is one-sided, our side is broad,” Alderman Mark DeMeola told Shiver. “We have a lot of responsibility. We have more to answer to than just the business community.”

Shiver argued that if the town’s tourist economy goes under, the whole town will suffer. DeMeola said he recognized that, which is why the town was willing to entertain his pleas in the first place.

“You have an undertaking in your hands that a community is teetering on,” DeMeola said. “You deserve our utmost respect and the respect of the entire valley.”

DeMeola suggested holding a vote to gauge public sentiment since it is their money on the line.

“If the voters say ‘Yeah,’ I say ‘Man, go ahead and do it,’” DeMeola said.

Shiver questioned the wisdom of a town-wide vote, however. Voters are not an accurate reflection of the town’s taxpayers, he said. Many of the hotel and restaurant owners pay taxes but don’t technically live in the town limits and therefore couldn’t vote, Shiver said.

Alderwoman Saralyn Price suggested holding a public hearing instead so everyone could weigh in, whether they are a voter, town taxpayer or none of the above.

“I represent the people and I want to see what they think,” Price said.

Town Manager Tim Barth said a public hearing was in order anyway if town leaders intend to consider the loan request. State statutes require the town to hold a public hearing before granting an economic development loan to a private enterprise. The earliest one could be held is in two weeks.

Shiver said the park could use the money much sooner, as they need money to get open by May 22.

Alderman Phil Aldridge said the “eleventh hour” request has given town leaders little time for due diligence.

“Everything I’ve ever done in life, I have pros and cons and I write them down,” Aldridge said.

The town’s attorney, Chuck Dickson, recommended getting detailed financial statements and a business plan from Shiver before moving forward.

“If I were lending money to someone I would want to act like a bank and want as much financial information as possible, extremely detailed, every single thing I could find out about the ability of the borrower to repay,” Dickson said.

DeMeola agreed.

“It may not be a service to you speed-wise to do this, but we need ample time for the town to have everything detailed,” DeMeola told Shiver.

Shiver said a business plan for pulling through bankruptcy is in the works and could be shared with the board. Shiver said Ghost Town’s owners and investors have pumped millions in personal assets into the park already.

“I don’t have any more money to put up,” Shiver said.

Shiver couldn’t say whether the park would pull through bankruptcy even if it did land a loan from the town.

“I am not speculating,” Shiver said in an interview following the meeting.

Shiver said the park is moving toward opening day. Ghost Town in the Sky held a job fair over the weekend, attracting hundreds looking for seasonal work. Shiver said tickets are selling online and advertising is under way.


Where they stand

Mayor Roger McElroy was the only alderman to say he wholeheartedly supports the loan, pledging he would vote for it.

“There are too many motels and business people that really can’t make it without Ghost Town,” said McElroy. “When Ghost Town was down before we couldn’t buy new sheets or new towels. We had to scrimp by.”

The same goes for other tourism-dependent businesses, McElroy said.

Ghost Town was closed from 2002 through 2006. The park’s original owner — who ran the park for 40 years — shut it down, partly due to old age and partly due to crumbling infrastructure and failing rides that required a major capital investment to restore. The park sat dormant five seasons until the current owners came along and reopened it in 2007.

Meanwhile, Alderman Colin Edwards was the only one to say he was wholeheartedly against the loan.

“I want Ghost Town to succeed, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t want to lose $200,000 of the taxpayers’ money and have to go up on property taxes,” Edwards said in an interview after the meeting. “I want some security they will pay this back and they cannot give us that security.”

The loan is equivalent to 6 cents on the town property tax rate for one year (see info box).

Price, DeMeola and Aldridge were neutral in their comments, postponing judgment until hearing from the public.

If the town did agree to a loan, strings would be attached, they said. Town aldermen want to ensure the money would only be spent on operations, like making payroll for hourly workers, DeMeola said. Shiver countered that some workers are salaried, pointing to his human resources director who happened to be sitting in the audience.


Getting paid back

Ghost Town was forced into Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March after being unable to keep up with payments on its $9.5 million in mortgage on the property. Bankruptcy filings revealed another $2.5 million in unpaid bills to small companies, from souvenir purveyors to contractors to ride engineers.

Town leaders wanted to know how they would be paid back should the park go under.

Shiver said the town would be in line behind a $9.5 million mortgage on the property, but in front of everyone else owed money. Ultimately, however, the bankruptcy judge would decide where Maggie ranks in line. There are a few debts in addition to the mortgage that would most likely rank ahead of Maggie, such as back property and sales taxes and bankruptcy attorney fees. Other lenders being courted to put up money are also being promised they will be first in line behind the $9.5 million mortgage.

“I am out every day trying to get additional financing,” Shiver said.

Shiver said the assets of the land, rides and buildings are worth well over $9.5 million, but if the park was liquidated through the bankruptcy process there’s no guarantee it would fetch enough to pay everyone back. Edwards said all they have is Shiver’s word.

“They ain’t got no payment plan to pay us back. We’ve not seen nothing in writing,” Edwards said.


Want to weigh in?

Maggie Valley leaders will hold a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 14, on whether to give Ghost Town in the Sky a loan of $200,000.

Those who want to submit comments but don’t want to speak at the hearing can submit them in written format at any time. Email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with “Ghost Town” in the subject line, or mail to Vickie Best, 3987 Soco Road, Maggie Valley, NC 28751.

Ghost Town didn’t withhold sales tax

Among Ghost Town’s debts is $136,000 in back sales taxes owed to the state of North Carolina. It was previously reported that Ghost Town failed to remit sales tax to the state collected as part of ticket sales. Ghost Town nor the N.C. Department of Revenue would elaborate on the source of the back sales tax.

However, it was learned in bankruptcy court last week that the sales tax owed is actually from the purchase of large piece of equipment by Ghost Town. Ghost Town is at odds with the state over whether it actually owes the tax, and thus is why it hasn’t paid up. Ghost Town claims the tax should be paid by the company it bought the equipment from, not by Ghost Town.

Ghost Town appears in bankruptcy court

Ghost Town in the Sky revealed last week that it was driven into bankruptcy by the threat of foreclosure from BB&T, which holds outstanding debt on the property to the tune of $9.5 million.

In a bankruptcy hearing in federal court April 15, CEO Steve Shiver said the theme park has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy with the intention of returning to solvency. To do so, however, the Maggie Valley theme park must pull off a summer opening, Shiver said.

If the park is unable to open, more than 200 small businesses and companies would likely be left holding the bag on around $2.5 million in unpaid bills racked up by Ghost Town, including electricians, plumbers, building supply stores, souvenir and soda vendors, newspapers and billboard companies.

“I cannot emphasize enough the need to reopen the park to have the cash flow to pay everybody back,” Shiver told the handful of creditors who showed up for the meeting.

Shiver asserted the park was aiming for a May 22 opening, but offered few specifics on how the cash-strapped theme park would be able to ramp up in time.

If reorganization doesn’t work and BB&T forecloses on the park, it’s doubtful the sale of the Ghost Town would net enough to pay back the long list of businesses owed money, which stand in line behind BB&T’s $9.5 million.

“If BB&T forecloses, nobody gets paid except BB&T,” said David Gray, an Asheville bankruptcy attorney representing Ghost Town.

Shiver said he and the other owners of the park have invested personal money into the park to the tune of $5 million, which they stand to lose as well if Ghost Town doesn’t pull through. The same goes for numerous private investors who have equity shares in the company, Shiver said.

Shiver said financial troubles went back to the large capital investment required after buying the park in late 2006. The park, created in the 1960s, had been sitting dormant for five years. It had to overhaul the dated rides, prop up rundown buildings and bring infrastructure like electrical wiring and water lines up to code.

Beyond these short-term needs, the park needed fresh attractions that would appeal to today’s tourist audience, Shiver said.

To do all this — plus be able to pay its mounting stack of bills — Ghost Town was seeking an $18 million loan last year, Shiver said. When the credit crunch hit last fall, the lender pulled out at the last minute, he said. That left park owners scrambling for another source of money. Shiver said they chased a high-interest loan of last resort known as a “mezzanine loan,” but pulled out when it seemed too risky.

“At the eleventh hour, they wanted an additional payment to be sent overseas with no guarantee and we said ‘No guys, we don’t trust you,’” Shiver said.

When the last-ditch loan fell through, the park was forced to file for reorganization bankruptcy, Shiver said.


Under oath

When creditors had a chance to ask questions of Shiver under oath, Mike Plemmons of Plemmons Plumbing and Heating in Waynesville, questioned a line of credit the park owners set up to funnel up to $500,000 into the operation.

“Will any of that be used to pay the creditors?” asked Plemmons, who is owed nearly $8,000.

Gray explained the line of credit will bypass those owed money and be used to get the park up and running.

“The whole concept is to save the debtor to pay the creditor,” Gray said. “If it operates, it generates money, it pays.”

But an attorney representing the interests of Mountain Energy of Waynesville, which is owed $14,600, questioned whether the park could operate at a profit even if it gets open. When the new owners reopened the park in 2007, it brought in $5.5 million. That year, the park had a positive cash flow, Shiver said. In 2008, however, revenue dropped to $4.4 million, and the park lost money that year, Shiver said.

Mountain Energy’s attorney asked Shiver what the break-even point was. Shiver said that information would be forthcoming when Ghost Town files its reorganization plan, a detailed business plan required by the bankruptcy court mapping out the park’s road to recovery.

“We’ll detail that fully in the plan,” Shiver said.

BB&T holds two notes on the property: a $6.5 million mortgage stemming from the original purchase of the property and a $3 million loan that funded upgrades. The initial mortgage is backed by a USDA Rural Development loan guarantee. If Ghost Town defaults, the guarantee would kick in to cover 70 percent of BB&T’s $6.5 million mortgage, courtesy of federal taxpayers.

Arnold Skelton, president of tourism brochure distributor Mountain Information Center who is owed $2,500, asked Shiver why the loan guarantee didn’t kick in already.

Gray explained that the guarantee would be triggered only as a last resort.

“BB&T has to proceed with legal collection outlets. BB&T has to attempt to collect and come up with a deficiency before the guarantee kicks in,” Gray said.

Shiver thanked the creditors for their cooperation as Ghost Town tries to get back on its feet.

“Thank you all for being there,” Shiver said.

Maggie Valley revs up the action for Thunder in the Smokies

Maggie Valley will roll out the welcome mat next weekend for more than 3,500 motorcycle riders descending on the tiny Smoky Mountain town for the annual Thunder in the Smokies Motorcycle Rally held April 24 through 26.

With hundreds of scenic routes, the Smoky and Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina are incredibly popular with bikers — and Thunder in the Smokies is one of the premier rendezvous of the season. Now in its seventh year, the rally has gained popularity for its diverse crowd and its family-friendly atmosphere.

“People bring their grandkids, their kids, their teenagers,” says Lori Nix, who owns the Handlebar Corral production company with her husband Chris. The company stages the annual rally.

Thunder in the Smokies takes place at the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds and features many of the components found at a traditional bike rally — beer, bands and a bike show, for instance. This year, hard-rocking bass guitarist and South Dakota native Jasmine Cain takes the stage, along with bands Warhorse and Scotty Box. But the lineup of entertainment is much more diverse than your average bike bash. Rally-goers can partake in motorcycle trivia, bike games, and even a drive-in motorcycle movie showing on Friday night at dusk — with attendees voting on their pick from titles like “Easy Rider”, “Ghost Rider”, “The World’s Fastest Indian” and “Evel Knievel: The Last of the Gladiators”.

There’s even a guided ride Saturday morning up to Waterrock Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway. A pancake breakfast and Gospel church service wraps up the weekend on Sunday morning.

A weekend pass — a steal at $15 — means rally attendees can come and go as they please and allows ample opportunity to explore the many mountain rides in the area. The Blue Ridge Parkway is the closest option, but two famous excursions — the Cherohala Skyway and the twisting, turning Tail of the Dragon — are just 90 minutes away.

Maggie Valley is a convenient jumping off point to scores of mountain destinations, and is a getaway in its own right. Nix laughs as she recounts the shocked looks of patrons who discover there’s no Taco Bell and no McDonald’s — then end up never wanting to leave the mountain oasis.

“It’s a small little town,” Nix says. “It’s one road, and you can’t get lost. Plus, you have a lot of mom and pop restaurants and hotels, so it’s more personal. It’s always nice to know you’re helping pack someone’s 20-room hotel. The owner is often the one who makes your bed and cleans your room, so the service is great.”

The Nixes help to provide the rally with a personal touch. They’re a constant presence and get to know the riders on a first-name basis.

“A lot of times you go to an event, and you have no idea who puts it on,” said Nix. “Chris is the emcee, and he’s always got the mic in his hand.”

More and more bike enthusiasts flock to Thunder in the Smokies each year, most from places like S.C., Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and Florida. Others come from as far as Pennsylvania, and last year, a father and daughter duo made the trek from Canada. The bikes are diverse, representing every make and model. Their riders are just as varied.

“You’ll have some of the old school bikers that own a bike shop and have built their own bike riding in, then coming in behind them are doctors, lawyers, firemen — you name it,” says Nix. “No matter what you ride or what you do, everyone is welcome.”

The 7th Annual Thunder in the Smokies Motorcycle Rally takes place Friday, April 24, to Sunday, April 26, at the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds, located in the town of Maggie Valley in Western North Carolina. Gates open at 11 a.m. on Friday and 9 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. For a lineup of events and directions, visit www.thunderinthesmokys.com.

Multi-family unit OK’d by judge, but court rules against proposed expansion

The neighborhood covenants of a Maggie Valley homeowners association were put to the test in court recently.

A developer sued the Sherwood Forest homeowners association after they tried to block his foray into rental condos. David G. Baker, formerly of Charlotte, wanted to develop a six-unit condo and extend town water and sewer to the property. The only problem — the covenants of Sherwood Forest forbade multi-family units. The covenants define Sherwood Forest as a neighborhood of single-family houses.

Baker attests that he wasn’t aware of the covenants when he purchased an existing home in the subdivision in 2006, and that no one, including his Realtor, informed him of their existence.

“He felt the information he received when he purchased it was that he was entitled to (build the condo),” said Baker’s attorney, Bryant D. Webster of Black Mountain.

Apparently, the conflict between Baker and the homeowners association started when residents of the subdivision witnessed construction work on the property and notified the homeowners association that it appeared to be in violation of the neighborhood covenants, according to the lawsuit.

The existing home on the lot already had the makings of a multi-family unit, Baker argued. The three-floor house had a separate kitchen and bath on each floor, as well as a coin laundry in the basement.

But this is where the situation gets murky. Both sides agreed that the property was used to house members of the same extended family up until it was sold in 2003, which would explain the separate kitchens. However, Baker contended that in 2005, the property was entered into a multi-leasing situation, with three separate, unrelated individuals renting out each floor.

The homeowners association didn’t agree. It claimed the leases that Baker presented as evidence were insufficient proof that the unit was ever rented out by floor, according to the lawsuit. And members of the homeowners association filled out sworn affidavits attesting that they only became aware of the multi-family use of the property after Baker bought it in 2006. They said there was nothing in the external appearance of the building to indicate it was used as a multi-family unit, and that there were never more than one or two cars there at any given time.

Baker ended up suing the homeowners association to construct his six-unit condo. His main defense was that the homeowners association failed to complain about the multi-family nature of the structure within the required six-year statute of limitations, which he claims started ticking when the unit was first built.

“We felt it was a very strong argument that ... they had not exercised those rights within the applicable time period,” Webster said.

In a judgment handed down March 23 in Haywood County Superior Court, neither party was a clear winner, or a clear loser. The court found that Baker’s structure had been used for multi-family purposes in the past, and could continue to be used as such. However, the court restricted Baker to the three units — one on each floor — and didn’t grant him permission to build three more like he had planned. It also didn’t grant Baker rights to town water and sewer.

“What the court did was in essence split the baby and found that ... it would not be fair to prevent Baker from using it as a three-family unit, but that it would not be permitted to be anything more than that,” said Homeowners Association Attorney Bill Cannon of Waynesville. “The covenants of the subdivision remain intact.”

Cannon said he believes most of his clients — in total, the owners of 38 separate homes named in the lawsuit — were satisfied with the outcome.

Bryant said he felt “both sides got some of what they wanted.” However, he questioned whether the judge should have allowed the six condos Baker wanted since it was already classified as a multi-family structure.

“Our position is multi-family is multi-family, and once that is permitted, whether (Baker) does six units or three is of no real difference,” Bryant said. “Obviously the court didn’t see it exactly that way and we certainly respect the process and the wisdom of the judge who decided, and sometimes getting some of what you want is the best you’ll do.”

Ghost Town partners establish own credit line

Owners of Ghost Town in the Sky hope to funnel up to $500,000 into the amusement park in order to get it open by summer.

A recently created limited liability corporation called Resurrection Partners has emerged as a vehicle to provide the beleaguered theme park much needed cash. The line of credit would be provided at least in part by Ghost Town partners themselves, according to Ghost Town CEO Steve Shiver. By funneling the cash through a separate entity, the investors have a shot at recouping their money should the park go under.

The park needs “emergency and immediate approval of financing,” without which “the park will not be able to open and operate for the 2009 year,” according to bankruptcy filings. The line of credit would provide money for payroll and “expenses commensurate with the opening preparations.”

Resurrection Partners, LLC, was created in early March. Lynn Sylvester, a Waynesville accountant who serves as Ghost Town’s CPA, is listed as the registered agent for Resurrection. Sylvester is also an equity member in Ghost Town. He is also listed among the creditors in the bankruptcy filing, with a claim of $74,000 for accounting services and fees.

The other players in Resurrection Partners are not known, but Shiver has previously said the owners of the park will be putting up money to get the park reopened.

“You should all be thanking us because we are putting our money where our mouth is to make something work that benefits all of Haywood County,” Shiver said.

However, those putting up money through Resurrection would only do so if they could be granted super-priority status, according to the filings. That means they will be among the first in line to get paid back if the park doesn’t pull through a reorganization and is liquidated.

Resurrection is second in line behind a $6.5 million bond held by BB&T for the property’s purchase. They are ahead of more than 200 other creditors owed money by Ghost Town. They are even in front of a $3 million loan by BB&T for property upgrades.

Ghost Town owners originally asked the court to approve a $100,000 line of credit through Resurrection. After it was approved, they returned to the court and asked for it to be increased to $500,000. They claimed the initial request for $100,000 was an “error in communication,” according to bankruptcy filings, and that they had always intended for it to be $500,000.

But in a phone interview two weeks ago, Ghost Town CEO Steve Shiver said the initial request for $100,000 was a “place holder.” Shiver said they needed the bankruptcy court to approve the concept of a line of credit from Resurrection first, and would then ask for it to be increased.

The larger the line of credit gets, the further back in line the other creditors are pushed.

The bankruptcy court will track how much is actually passed to the park through the line of credit, with the ability to ask for bank statements and cashed checks. This ensures Resurrection only stands to get back the amount it puts in.

The court will also track how it is used. The court will want to see the money used to help the park remain solvent rather than salaries for the park’s owners, for example. The court would not allow Resurrection to be a vehicle for funneling money to the owners while other creditors on the list remain unpaid.

Shiver said Ghost Town plans to fight a liquidation.

“That is not in the best interest of the creditors and the Maggie Valley businesses we owe money to, our bond holder and our investors,” Shiver said.

The park has a trail of unpaid bills with more than 215 companies totaling $2.5 million. That’s on top of a $6.5 million bond to purchase the park and a $3 million loan for upgrades to the property. The park owes another $200,000 in back sales tax and property tax. The bankruptcy filing doesn’t reflect the numerous private investors who put up money over the past two years in exchange for an equity stake in the company but may never see a return.

Comments from Shiver in this article were made a week and a half ago. Shiver would not return phone calls and emails seeking comment this week. Sylvester did not return phone messages seeking comment, nor did Ghost Town’s bankruptcy attorney David Gray.

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