Maggie to change festival grounds approach

By Jessi Stone Assistant editor | Jan 31, 2014
Photo by: File photo The Town of Maggie Valley has decided not to have a parade along Soco Road this year because of the increased costs and the lack of participation.

Maggie Valley Board of Aldermen held an all-day work session Monday to map out the direction the town should take the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds.

While no decisions have been made yet, board members seem to be in agreement that the town needs to take a more “hands-off” approach to running the facilities. That means town staff will no longer help set up events, the town won’t pay for event advertising and additional police presence at events will come out of the promoter’s budget.

“I think there’s widespread support on the board for not funding the festivals or participating in the festivals,” said Mayor Ron DeSimone.

He said former festival grounds director Audrey Hager was more involved in the planning and execution of each event at the festival grounds, but the new board wants to put more responsibility on the promoters.

Hager was fired in October after the town investigated the financials surrounding the Matt Stillwell concert at the festival grounds in August. The event didn’t sell the tickets anticipated, and the town ended up losing $11,000 that it is still trying to recoup from the promoter Charlie Meadows.

To ensure something like that doesn’t happen again, the board wants to establish a new policy regarding the fees and procedures when it comes to renting out the festival grounds.

“I think we have a good perspective on what we need to do,” said Alderman Mike Eveland. “We have to come up with a mission statement or some kind of statement of what we want for the festival grounds.”

The big question is how much should the town should subsidize the festival grounds. The town has spent more than $1 million on the festival grounds since 2002, including purchasing the land, building the stage, installing lighting and building amenities. The annual budget for the festival grounds has reached $160,000 in the past few years, which included a full-time director salary.

The events held at the grounds do provide an economic boost to struggling businesses in the valley, the board agreed, but questioned the wisdom of pouring more  taxpayer money into something if it has little return.

“The festival grounds is part of our DNA now and draws people into the valley. We want to preserve it and make it better, but we need to stay out of actually doing the events,” Eveland said. “We understand the town is going to bear some expenses at the festival grounds. The question is how far are we willing to go based on past history, which probably went a little further than what this board is willing to do.”

DeSimone said the board seemed to agree that a full-time director wasn’t needed for the festival grounds. With Hager gone, Town Manager Nathan Clark and Town Clerk Vickie Best have been in contact with promoters and all but three weekends through the season are booked at the festival grounds for 2014.

“I don’t think you’ll see this board looking for a director,” Eveland said. “We might need someone to handle paperwork and be the contact person — someone to hand over the keys.”

In the past, the town has waived the $1,000 rental fee for the grounds in exchange for the promoter’s promise to spend at least $2,000 in advertising for the event. DeSimone said the board might decide to change that policy as well.

Maggie Valley board members agreed it made sense to cancel the 2014 Christmas parade to cut down on expenses.

“We decided due to declining interest in the valley not to have a Christmas parade,” DeSimone said.  “We’d rather have a nice float in Waynesville parade than to just have three to five floats from Maggie Valley in our parade. It’s a lot of work and cost for the little interest.”

Overall, Alderman Phillip Wight said it was a productive meeting and the board members were moving in the same direction for once.

“It was absolutely a conversation worth having and it’s very obvious the aldermen are willing to work together to create a decent policy for the festival grounds,” he said.

DeSimone said the board was planning on having another work session on Feb. 4 to actually make some decisions on a new policy.