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Originally published: 2013-05-07 21:15:54
Last modified: 2013-05-07 21:18:43

Board debates Boone town property usage

by Anna Oakes

The Boone Cultural Resources Advisory Board on Monday discussed a possible transition from leases to license agreements for the use of town-owned property, such as Daniel Boone Park, home of "Horn in the West."

Town attorney Sam Furgiuele and the Boone Town Council have discussed the possibility of switching to licenses during the past year.

Furgiuele said the advantage of a license system is that the owner of the property grants permission to others to use the property for specific purposes, while maintaining its rights to the property. A lease, conversely, grants someone else the right to use the property, and the town must reserve its rights to go onto the property once it is leased.

Currently, the Southern Appalachian Historical Association leases the town's Daniel Boone Park to produce the "Horn in the West" outdoor drama and for the Hickory Ridge Homestead Living History Museum.

For years, SAHA has subleased the property to Appalachian State University for student parking and to the Watauga County Farmers' Market. SAHA receives about $30,000 in revenue annually from the subleases. However, SAHA is not permitted to approve subleases or changes to its sublease agreements without the approval of the town.

"Part of the problem is that (a lease) keeps us from being able to respond in a timely manner," said Boone Cultural Resources Advisory Board member Cheryl Prisco. "To me, that's the allure of a license versus a lease."

Furgiuele said licensing could open the property up to more users and potentially bring in more revenue for the town's cultural programs.

But "the elephant in the room," noted Boone cultural programs coordinator Mark Freed, is the disrepair of the property and the amount of money the town spends (or is asked to spend) on maintenance each year.

The town will have trouble finding new users for the property, unless the property's condition is improved, some board members noted.

And some felt switching to a license system could result in a loss of revenue or more expenses for the town, especially in the short term.

As the landlord of a leased property, the town is responsible for substantial repairs to the Daniel Boone Park property, but the lessee, SAHA, takes responsibility for a number of tasks, including trash pickup and cleaning the restrooms.

Advisory board member Kim Wangler said she felt the town would incur additional expenses and demands of staff should the town discontinue leases, and she said she's not confident the town could increase usage fees enough to make up the difference.

Advisory board member Billy Ralph Winkler -- the former chairman of SAHA -- noted that two years ago, SAHA was willing to launch a capital campaign to raise funds to renovate the facility, but without a lease, "the town of Boone needs to know that's totally their responsibility."

Winkler said he would like to recommend that the council extend the SAHA lease for one more year to allow more time to explore a transition to license agreements.

However, whether the town expends more funds on the maintenance of the Daniel Boone Park property next fiscal year -- either as a landlord or as a licensor -- is no certain matter.

As a result of recent action by Watauga County to change the distribution of local sales tax revenues, the town is facing an estimated shortfall of nearly $2 million next year.