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Originally published: 2013-07-17 18:24:31
Last modified: 2013-07-19 11:48:54

Boone Town Council discusses SAHA lease

by Anna Oakes

Southern Appalachian Historical Association board members appeared before the Boone Town Council Tuesday to seek council decisions on the nonprofit's lease of the town-owned Daniel Boone Park property and whether SAHA can rent parking spaces there.

The council discussed the matter Tuesday but continued it until the reconvened regular monthly meeting on Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

For years, the town has leased the Daniel Boone Park property on Horn in the West Drive to SAHA, which produces the outdoor drama "Horn in the West" in its amphitheater and operates the Hickory Ridge Homestead Living History Museum on the grounds as well.

But the lease has been the subject of council debate for several years now, with a dispute four years ago over its longtime sublease to the Watauga County Farmers' Market and most recently, the town's discussions about possibly switching from a lease system to a licensing system.

SAHA's most recent lease extension expires at the end of December, and Boone Town Councilman Rennie Brantz, a SAHA board member, said the organization needs to know soon what the town's intentions are with a future lease or license.

"They need some certainty," Brantz said, noting that the organization needs to begin planning for next year's operations, which includes applying for grant funding.

Further complicating matters is the news that Appalachian State University does not plan to renew its sublease of the parking lot for student parking, which amounts to $25,000 in annual income to SAHA. SAHA board chairwoman Michelle Ligon requested the council's permission to rent the parking spaces directly to recover some of that revenue.

"We absolutely depend on every penny of that $25,000," Ligon said. "I doubt we'll come close to the number of spaces that ASU rents out ... but it's my understanding we do not have approval from you all to do that. We need permission to be able to rent those parking spaces."

The organization survived a $20,000 shortfall that endangered this summer's opening of the 62nd "Horn in the West" season this spring thanks to $8,400 in funding from Watauga County and $11,615 in private donations, as well as donations for equipment and other expenses. SAHA leaders said they were short on funds to meet payroll and other production expenses because of more rained-out shows than usual in 2012 and reduced grant funding.

But council discussion again returned to the subject of a possible transition to a licensing system of town properties, which has been discussed since at least April 2012. Town attorney Sam Furgiuele met with the town's Cultural Resources Advisory Board May 7 to discuss the differences between licenses and leases.

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.

Furgiuele said licensing could open the property up to more users and potentially bring in more revenue for the town's cultural programs. But CRAB members and cultural resources staff have expressed concerns that the town could incur more maintenance and staffing expenses and responsibilities if it abandons the lease system.