Historic park's future unclear
by Anna Oakes
The Cultural Resources Advisory Board on Monday approved a motion supporting future development at Daniel Boone Park in an effort to encourage planning for needed improvements there.
Daniel Boone Park is a town-owned property bisected by Horn in the West Drive that includes an outdoor amphitheater where "Horn in the West" is performed, the Hickory Ridge Living History Museum, the Daniel Boone Native Gardens, Boone Jaycees shelter and playground, Strawberry Hill and a parking lot.
"Basically, if we don't make that commitment (to developing the property), then we're heading toward the bulldozer plan," board member Cheryl Prisco said.
The new town board has been tasked with evaluating potential uses of the park, which is need of repairs and renovations to the amphitheater, restrooms, buildings, storm water facilities and water and sewer infrastructure, town staff have said.
Last month, the Boone Town Council denied a recommendation by the board to fund a cost study of needed improvements at the park, noting that a similar study was conducted in 2007. Instead, the council directed staff to develop a list of short-term maintenance needed prior to next summer.
The town is amid a transition from a long-term lease agreement to a short-term licensing agreement with the Southern Appalachian Historical Association -- the nonprofit that has produces "Horn in the West." Boone town attorney Sam Furgiuele recently composed a draft licensing agreement that would begin Jan. 1, which the board was asked to review on Monday.
Boone Cultural Resources Director Pilar Fotta noted that Furgiuele was directed to draft a license agreement that mirrors the current lease agreement -- which does not address some issues discussed over the past year, she said. Fotta said she was concerned that under the draft agreement, the approval process for licensed use of the property could take up to six weeks, which is not always practical.
Board members said the draft license agreement does not clearly delineate the maintenance and repair responsibilities of the town and the licensee. And board chairman Frank Mohler said he wasn't sure if one licensee -- SAHA -- should be granted exclusive space for storage.
But the discussion moved away from the licensing agreement to the issue of needed repairs at the property. Board members debated whether port-o-johns would be acceptable on a temporary basis while restrooms were repaired or rebuilt, but Fotta and Boone Facility Maintenance Superintendent Eric Gustaveson reminded the board that the water and sewer infrastructure on the property must be addressed, which could be very costly.
Board member Wayne Williams said the town should begin to plan a phased project of capital improvements at Daniel Boone Park, beginning with infrastructure. He suggested that the local Tourism Development Authorities set aside a portion of occupancy tax revenues each year to help fund the project.
In 2011 and 2012, consultant Marquis Halback and a steering committee developed a concept plan for redevelopment of Daniel Boone Park as part of an effort to begin a $4 million to $5 million capital campaign. The Marquis Halback plan included three concept maps with varying configurations of Horn in the West Drive, a farmers' market shelter, parking, expanded garden areas and pedestrian facilities.
The effort was spearheaded by then-SAHA Chairman Billy Ralph Winkler and then-TDA Director of Tourism Planning Eric Woolridge, who in April 2012 requested the Boone Town Council's endorsement of the redevelopment concept and permission to continue planning the capital campaign.
The council endorsed the concept but directed that any further planning be in conjunction with the new Cultural Resources Board, which first met in August 2012. The effort has since been on the back burner, with SAHA leaders saying they cannot fundraise for property improvements without a lease agreement.
"(Without a lease,) the town of Boone needs to know that's totally their responsibility," said Winkler, now a member of the Cultural Resources Board, in May.
On Monday, the Cultural Resources Board stopped short of endorsing the Marquis Halback plan, citing a lack of consensus from stakeholders and concerns that the public might think the concepts presented in the plan -- including the locations of buildings, access roads and other facilities -- would be the final plan to be pursued.
But members agreed that something must be done to improve the park.
"The viability of this property will depend on if it's attractive to other uses other than SAHA," Prisco said.
"(Without improvements), we aren't going to find very many users of that property in the short term," added Mohler.
Town staff have suggested the costs of a complete overhaul of the park could approach $8 million to $9 million.
"The last time we had a structural engineer up there, they wouldn't examine the properties because they were afraid of losing their seal," Jim Byrne, special assistant to the town manager, said at last month's regular council meeting. "What the recommendation has been all along has been bulldoze it."
At that meeting, Councilwoman Jamie Leigh said the town has a number of properties in need of improvement other than Daniel Boone Park.
"It's not at the top of my list," she said.
But council members Rennie Brantz, Lynne Mason and Andy Ball said they were open to exploring models to fund future improvements at the park.
"Right now we don't have the money, but that doesn't mean that we can't develop a mechanism to fund something like this," Mason said. "It would take really looking outside of the box there and coming up with something. It's so important to a lot of cultural activities."
"It's definitely still on the table
for me," Ball said in an interview after the meeting. "I think we need to take a wholesale
approach to that property. If it has to be in phases over five years, fine."