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Wednesday, 13 June 2012 18:34

Maggie looking to leave festival business, axes director position

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Maggie Valley’s will no longer employ a festival director effective Sept. 5 — a decision that comes as no surprise to town leaders or the festival director herself.

“I had a sneaking suspicion with the new direction,” said Festival Director Audrey Hager, referencing the town board’s multiple assertions that it wants out of the festival business. “I kind of knew it was coming because it’s a totally different strategy than the previous board.”

 

Town leaders had discussed the idea for “a number of months,” said Town Manager Tim Barth.

“That had been something that I think had been under discussion for a long time now,” Barth said. “It just seemed like now was the best time to do it” as the town continues to plan next year’s budget.

Every board member agreed with the decision, Barth said.

The town has not made an official announcement. The Board of Alderman simply released its budget in preparation for a public hearing on June 12, and the salary for the festival director is conspicuously absent.

Mayor Ron DeSimone said the choice boiled down to business and money.

“It’s a budget decision. We are trying to get out of the festival business,” said DeSimone, who declined to say much more about the decision.

The previous town board had pinned its hopes on the festival grounds as one of its best asset in the fight to increase tourism, attempting to pack the calendar with car shows, carnivals, craft fairs and motorcycle rallies to lure warm bodies to the valley. However, critics, including the current Board of Aldermen, blasted the town for the expenses. Earlier this year, the new town board decided to downsize Maggie’s Red, White and Boom Fourth of July event, which costs the valley thousands of dollars a year to put on.

Alderman Phil Aldridge said he doesn’t want to contradict DeSimone, but it’s “misleading” to say Maggie is getting out of the festival business.

“The town owns the festival grounds. We will never get out of the festival grounds business,” Aldridge said.

However, like DeSimone and other board members, Aldridge would like to limit the town’s role in the running of the festival grounds.

“I have been advocating for this for over a year,” Aldridge said.

The board met in a closed-door session to discuss Hager’s future, or lack thereof, in Maggie Valley. Hager was not included in the talks. And, although she did not have a say in the matter, Hager said she supports the board’s decision.

Hager earned about $42,000. Of that, the town set aside $11,000 to contract someone or some organization to help with the festival grounds beginning in 2013.

 

Weighing options

After years of struggling, the town hoped Hager could turn the festival ground business around.

For the first few years of operation, the festival grounds languished a bit. The first festival director didn’t rise to the town’s expectations in his few months on the job — the number of events was just too low.

The town’s hopes for the venue were pinned in 2009 on Hager, who came in with an impressive event-planning resume and the intent to turn the place around. Prior to coming to Maggie Valley, Hager worked for Caesar Entertainment in Indiana for 23 years.

And, Hager said her time and effort has made the grounds a more popular venue today. Hager cited an increase in the number of events at Maggie Festival Grounds as an important accomplishment during her tenure. Last year, the grounds held 18 events; this year, 24 are scheduled, and another four are on the book for 2013. The town also secured an event for Spyder motorcycles, which brought in new revenues for businesses in the valley.

“I am definitely proud of the job I’ve done,” Hager said.

At least one of the aldermen remains dubious that the increase in events resulted from the town employing a festival director.

“I’ve just never been a believer (in the position),” Aldridge said, adding that some event organizers were attracted to Maggie because the town board decided to waive most of the fees associated with using the festival grounds.

Although she hopes to stay in the region, Hager isn’t sure what she will do next.

“I don’t know what I am going to do yet,” she said “I am kinda just weighing all my options.”

 

Other key points in Maggie Valley’s budget:

• The tax rate will stay the same.

• Town employees will receive a 2 percent cost-of-living raise. However, there will be no merit raises.

• No town departments have requested any new positions.

• Maggie Valley will finish paying off the land for the festival grounds in August 2012.

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