Maggie chases festivals as ticket to tourismWritten by Bibeka Shrestha
When the Maggie Valley Board of Aldermen purchased land for a town festival ground in 2002, it had high hopes for success.
Events held there would reel in visitors to stay at local motels, eat at local restaurants, and shop at local stores.
As well intentioned as the act may have been — seven years and more than $1 million later — the festival grounds is still not producing enough money to cover expenses. The town recently decided to write off the debt, which means money generated from the festival grounds won’t be used to pay back the town’s general fund, which has been covering costs ever since the festival grounds were created.
The town rushed to develop the festival grounds to compensate for a potential dwindling in tourism after Ghost Town, an amusement park and one of Maggie Valley’s anchors of tourism, shut down temporarily.
The Town of Maggie Valley has paid for roughly half of the $1 million cost of buying the property and installing improvements, with the rest of the money coming from grants and donations.
Annually, the festival grounds has brought in an average of nearly $11,000 in revenues, paid by groups holding festivals there. Meanwhile operating expenses runs an average of about $31,000 annually.
“The festival grounds fund doesn’t generate enough money to pay off the expenses to run the festival grounds,” said Town Manager Tim Barth.
Furthermore, revenue doesn’t begin to cover debt on the property, both from land purchase and improvements made over the years, such as a stage, restrooms and concession stand. The debt has averaged $147,000 a year.
“The general fund is still making the payment every year for the land,” Barth said.
The result is that town taxpayers, including residents with no personal stake in tourism, have been saddled with subsidizing the operation.
Barth said the town never envisioned that the festival grounds would be a profitable venture. Its main function was to bring tourists to “spend time in Maggie and spend money in Maggie.”
But Alderman Phil Aldridge said while others claim the festival grounds will never be a “money making proposition,” he begs to differ. According to Aldridge, the town could make a better effort to promote the festival grounds.
“Why say the race is over when it’s only half run?” said Aldridge. “You’re investing into something. It takes money to make money.”
The town is hoping to bring in fresh talent yet again to aid the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds in attracting events. Town leaders have oscillated over the years on whether the town needed a dedicated festival director, seeing a few come and go without lasting success. The last festival director, who was fired in May, lasted a mere three months.
Barth said the town board decided to see if it could go without the position and still have events materialize. The laissez-faire approach has now been put aside, as the town is once again on the hunt for a festival director who will better market the venue.
A 1 percent tax on Maggie Valley’s lodging will fund about $20,000 of the next festival director’s salary, with the town making up the rest.
Maggie Valley’s festival season, which runs from May to October, saw a total of 11 festivals this year, compared to 13 the year before.
Some business owners said the festival grounds has great potential for success, and the move to hire a festival director should have happened a long time ago.
“They need to put somebody in charge,” said Jim Higel, owner of Legends Sports Grill. “Nobody knows who to call.”
“The problem with the festival grounds is who’s managing it,” said Joanne Martin, owner of the Mountaineer Restaurant and Fireside Cottages. “The festival grounds is an important part of the town’s well-being. They really need to get that hitched up.”
Tammy Brown, chairwoman of the town’s parks, recreation, and festival advisory committee, said even though the town has been very dedicated to making improvements to the festival grounds, there has been a need all along for someone to market it to the public.
“It’s time to actually go after folks that have the ability to come in and put on an event,” Brown said. “The town is not in the business of putting on events and festivals. It’s time-intensive, labor-intensive ... There are folks out there that are promoters that do this for a living.”
Try, try again
Earlier this year, the outgoing festival director complained that cost charged for using the festival grounds was a deterrent in landing events. Brown said the festival advisory board asked the former director to do a study on costs at similar venues, but it was never completed.
When the festival grounds was just starting up, Brown’s board did research rents for similar-sized venues to ensure prices were fair.
Running an event at the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds currently costs for-profit organizations $500 per day and non-profits $250 each day. In addition, there’s a $1,000 deposit and $250 per day charge for using the stage, water, electricity and lighting.
Earlier this year, Jeff Cody, sponsor for Rocky Mountain Events, cancelled a mini-truck show due to higher than anticipated fees. According to Cody, the additional fee for the use of electricity, the stage and the water was “ridiculous.” Cody said insurance costs were also more expensive in North Carolina than in Tennessee, where he eventually moved the event.
Regardless of the festival grounds’ somewhat lackluster revenues, there are still some who are optimistic about its future.
Joe Moody, who serves on the board of directors for the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce, said the festival grounds is a great venue even if it isn’t a moneymaking venture. Moody said the grounds is successful in supporting local businesses.
In his opinion, a full-time festival director would be valuable for the entire county and could be pursued as a joint effort.
“It should be rolled together,” Moody said. “[The director] needs to be able to sell the whole county, not just Maggie Valley.