A bad penny binds the local economy of Maggie Valley, NC, to former Miami-Dade County Manager, mayor of Homestead, Florida, and amusement park operator, Steve Shiver.
Shiver is CEO of Ghost Town In the Sky at Maggie Valley, an amusement park that recently went bankrupt. The corporation includes other Miami shareholders, who expected the park to become a magnet for second homeowners riding the housing asset bubble to a cooler climate in the summer. When he was in South Florida, Shiver was integral to the biggest schemes in Dade, to plow more suburban sprawl into farmland. He was an unabashed leader of the effort to privatize the Homestead Air Force Base without environmental reviews, for which he was rewarded with the slot as county manager by then Mayor Alex Penelas.
Today, Ghost Town In The Sky has liabilities of $12.5 million and no cash. Since the local economy depends in large part on tourists attracted to the chair lift, the roller coaster, and the shoot-em-up's in the OK Corral, Shiver has gone to the town leaders and asked for $200K in cash to open the park this week.
The Smoky Mountain News reports of Shiver threatening an elected official at a public meeting ("Ghost Town and alderman at loggerheads", April 29, 2009): "Ghost Town CEO Steve Shiver threatened to sue Maggie Valley Alderman Colin Edwards during a town meeting this week. Edwards attempted to speak out against Shiver’s request for a $200,000 loan from the town. But Shiver objected and refused to let Edwards finish speaking. “I raise my objections,” Shiver said, cutting Edwards off. “Gentlemen, lady, I mean no disrespect but there are serious issues of conflict we have raised through our attorneys. I think in the next few weeks you will see some legal action.”
The alderman apparently owns a small construction company that built a retaining wall at Maggie Valley and was not paid in full, like a long list of 200 creditors, owed $2.5 million. In a related article, the Smoky Mountain Times reports that bankruptcy filings, "... show nearly $25,000 was paid to Ghost Town CEO Steve Shiver and a company that Shiver is president of, Global Management Services. Shiver personally got $1,657 as a salary, while $23,000 was paid to his company. Shiver’s company is billed as a professional services company and dates to Shiver’s former life in the Miami area." (Ghost Town files financial statements with bankruptcy court, May 6, 2009)
Some of the aldermen have proposed a public vote to see if a majority approve the use of tax money to fund Shiver's opening day. Shiver reportedly dismissed the prospect of a public vote. The newspaper Miami Today recently reminded readers of another Shiver-promoted promise that hit the skids; the half cent sales tax for mass transit: "The county, under Manager Steve Shiver, listed those uses (for the 2002 tax) again and again, spotlighting a massive addition to Metrorail to honeycomb the county. Government pledged it would keep up prior transit spending so the new money would add routes and not fund operations. Miami Today strongly supported the tax based on those promises. Other media did too. Voters bought in. And we were all wrong, because not a single one of those promises was kept."
To help keep Steve Shiver in North Carolina, please send your contributions to: Ghost Town in the Sky, 890 Soco Road, Maggie, NC 28751.
May 14, 2009
Maggie Valley considers loan for Ghost Town
Wake up, Maggie, the folks at Ghost Town have something to ask of you.
It's the middle of May, and their debts are beginning to accrue.
The theme park used to keep us amused.
But I feel you're being used.
Oh Maggie, 200 K? I'm just not sure.
Ghost Town lured visitors from home, but now it says it really needs a loan.
Or the park may not open, and the economy would really hurt.
Twisting the lyrics to the Rod Stewart classic “Maggie Mae” might seem an odd way to start a column about the request from the owners of Ghost Town in the Sky, the mountaintop amusement park that is seeking a $200,000 loan from Maggie Valley officials.
But there are some similarities between Stewart's tale of a summer fling between a young man and an older woman. In this case, however, it's not so much Maggie's face showing its age in the morning sun. It's the face of her suitor - Ghost Town.
The long-in-the-tooth tourist attraction is in desperate need of a make-over, financially and otherwise.
Originally opened in 1961, Ghost Town operated for decades as one of Western North Carolina's most popular destinations, attracting upwards of 300,000 visitors to Haywood County annually during its heyday.
Over the years, make-believe cowboys and Indians, gunfighters and saloon girls lost out to videogames and high-tech toys in the eyes of would-be park-goers. Ghost Town fell on hard times, and the park eventually shuttered its doors in 2002, remaining closed until it was brought back to life in spring 2007.
Despite the fact that some of the primary attractions - most notably the Red Devil rollercoaster (rechristened the Cliff Hanger) - were not ready on re-opening day, Maggie Valley enjoyed a 40 percent increase in tourism after Ghost Town's rebirth.
Unfortunately, the good economic news was short-lived. The park's owners recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, facing $12.3 million in debts and holding approximately $13 million in assets.
In addition, none of the park's rides have been inspected by the state, which must happen before Ghost Town can open.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding its future, the park says it needs a loan from the town in order to open on schedule May 22. Municipal officials have called a special meeting for 5:30 p.m. May 14 to receive input from residents.
Maggie Valley's leaders and the people they represent should think long and hard about taking such an unprecedented step, weighing both sides of the issue carefully before either committing the town to a significant expenditure of taxpayers' money or rejecting a plea for help from a major player in the resort town's tourism-based economy.
On one hand, it would be a shame to see a business with an annual payroll of $2 million that provides employment for 200 people close its doors. The impact on motels, restaurants and other businesses would be traumatic, especially during the current economic downturn.
On the other hand, and in spite of the precedent set by the federal government, the town must ask itself it wants to get into the bailout business. As Alderman Phil Aldridge said, “Nobody wants Ghost Town to fail. But we have to go about this in a proper way. We can't just hand the money out.”
And nobody wants Maggie to sing this sad refrain, should she decide to proceed with the loan, only to watch Ghost Town go under:
The park made a first-class fool out of me.
I was as blind as a fool could be.
Ghost Town stole my heart, and then 200 K.
This is the opinion of Bill Studenc, who writes a weekly column for Mountain News.