After eight years of entertainment, Maggie Valley’s largest venue is closing its doors, falling prey to the poor economy.
800-seat Eaglenest Entertainment was one of the largest in Haywood County and has drawn big-name acts such as Percy Sledge and Pam Tillis, but in the end, they just couldn’t keep pace with a still-sluggish economic environment and consumers’ increasingly discerning tastes in entertainment.
“There’s a lot of competition for the entertainment dollar today,” said owner Grier Lackey. “We have not been able to attract the clientele that we needed to make the place profitable.”
Lackey is putting Eaglenest up for sale with hopes that whoever buys keeps it as an entertainment venue.
“We are going to make every effort we can to try and get someone back in there that will be an asset for Maggie Valley,” said Lackey. “That’s not going to be easy, but we’ll wait for the right opportunity that will be an asset to Maggie Valley.”
For now though, Maggie Valley is missing one of the few major attractions the struggling tourist town had left. Carolina Nights dinner theater is not reopening this season either.
It will “leave a big gap in entertainment options,” said Teresa Smith, president of the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce.
The massive center is state-of-the-art and unique in Maggie Valley. In addition to the large two-level auditorium, there’s also an outdoor amphitheater that can hold up to 1,000.
The site opened in 2003, replacing the notorious dance club Thunder Ridge with a family-friendly, alcohol-free venue. The idea, said Lackey, was to bring in entertainment that was geared towards families and tourists, bolstering the entertainment economy in the valley.
And to a certain extent, it worked. The place did draw a number of big names and crowds of music fans clamoring to see them. However, with the tanking economy, the shows Eaglenest has been able to book have steadily dwindled, along with each production’s attendance.
Lackey chalks this up not only to the economy, but to new entertainment venues that have come online in the region, like Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts in Franklin and a new concert venue at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino.
“I think that has had a drastic effect on it,” Lackey said. Plus, the region is known for its plethora of free festivals and music events put on to attract tourists.
Really though, said Lackey, it wasn’t just the new competition that was the death knell for the place. It was also a changing tide in what people actually want and are willing to pay for. Expendable income, he said, is shrinking fast, and the money that was once put to seeing acts of all kinds is now spent more carefully.
People only want to see artists they’re really committed to, which makes filling an 800-seat auditorium in a semi-rural community a very difficult proposition indeed.
And to just break even, never mind turning a profit, Lackey said they need to be pulling in at least 60 to 70 percent of their capacity for each show. That, of course, just hasn’t been happening.
Lackey says he’s not in a huge hurry to sell. The venue was always more of a hobby than a central business investment anyway. He is the president of Taylor Togs, once the nation’s manufacturer of Levi Strauss.