Sunday, June 07, 2009
Steve Shiver's Rolling Thunder Revue Ghost Town in the Sky at Maggie Valley: it's stellar! ... by gimleteye
Stella Parton with Norwegian recording artist Aslak Gjennestad.
International recording artist and sensation Stella Parton will be bringing her infectious mix of country music and "world class" entertainment to Steve Shiver's Rolling Thunder Revue Ghost Town in the Sky at Maggie Valley, NC. Eyeonmiami's fund to keep the former Miami-Dade County Manager in Maggie Valley is one of the most popular destinations on the web. Ghost Town has knocked Tony's Tube World off the map. Now international and national visitors can expect surprises too, lured by an international hit maker who is not just stellar, she's Stella!
Today Maggie Valley is a boom town that could only be imagined a few years ago. With the theme park, Cataloochee Ski Area, and the normal tourists and second-home owners, more than half a million people will visit the town this year. Perhaps that is too conservative an estimate. Millions of dollars in construction will take place in the next few months. Hundreds of permanent and part-time workers will be needed.
People are ecstatic. Maggie Valley has turned a corner. It has been re-invented as an up-scale location for second-home owners. No longer just a tourist town, Maggie Valley is now a resort town. Cataloochee Ski Area brings in tourists, but it also makes the mountain town a great place for a second home. Maggie Valley Country Club’s improvements and its upscale condominiums are also a part of this transformation, along with today's big news.
Stella Parton is recently returned from a triumphant UK tour. "Stella, a stellar hitmaker who has parlayed her stardom into credible ventures including acting, musicals, gospel, pop, and mainstream country, returns to her country roots with her most vital collection in many a year—one that serves as a showcase for her irresistible voice and exquisite songwriting. As the title suggests, this collection evokes her gospel roots, but is not a solely religious album. The arrangements are diverse, keeping with the traditional Appalachian sound in some, relying solely on her strong a cappella performance for others, and modernising the sound with piano and horn renditions on others. All eleven songs are penned by Stella and each one is deep felt and written from her own personal life experiences. This comes through in the infectious Family Ties, a self-penned beauty inspired by her close relationship with her siblings. The melody of Tell It Sister, Tell It, as one might expect, is instantly gratifying, with a harmony-soaked hook that’s dedicated to memory after just a couple of listens." This just may be Stella Parton’s best ever album."
A vibrant Maggie Valley is finding a middle ground while it plays home to an ever-growing number of tourists. The news about Ghost Town is top drawer. It will get better if town and county leaders spend some time planning for what’s about to come. Here are two news articles proving the point: one from August, 2006 and a more recent version. See for yourself what great things are happening at Ghost Town.
Smoky Mountain News
week of 8/30/06
Maggie re-invents itself – again
By Scott McLeod
People are saying the new Ghost Town will be a shot in the arm for Maggie Valley. That’s probably an understatement, but the new development and its cash infusion into this tourist town will also provide an important opportunity to talk about the future of Western North Carolina, especially as it pertains to the number of visitors and the changing tourism industry.
A new destination
I never went to Ghost Town to partake in its Old West mayhem. My family almost never traveled when I was a kid, except to visit relatives. We never came to the mountains. As an adult, crowds and lines too easily try my patience. I did ride the chairlift up to Ghost Town a few years ago to do a story on its impact on Maggie Valley, even as it was wheezing its last gasps. On that summer day about six years ago, I was reminded of a beach town after Labor Day, the boardwalk nearly deserted as tired merchants hoped for one last burst of business. Only a small handful of people were at Ghost Town.
The news last week surprised me. I doubted that high-dollar business types would take such a gamble on the aged theme park. Apparently those who crunch numbers see the opportunity to make some big money by rejuvenating the park and perhaps developing a few acres for high-end second homes or condos. Taken together — a federal loan, the support of the business community in Maggie Valley, and the booming real estate market in the region — several factors probably helped sweeten the prospect of re-opening the theme park.
More importantly, though, is what this could mean for Maggie Valley, Haywood County and the region. I’m not an economist or a mathematician, but I like to play with numbers. When I heard that Ghost Town buyers wanted to invest somewhere around $5 million to make the 40-plus-year-old attraction sparkle again, in addition to the $5.1 million purchase price, it became clear this is probably going to become a quality establishment.
Investors hope the new Ghost Town will attract 300,000 people a year by 2011. If ticket prices average $15, that’s $4.5 million a year just in the gate receipts. There’s little doubt proprietors would expect to take about the same dollar figure from sales of souvenirs and food, perhaps more. Suddenly you have a $10 million business, and that’s for just half a year.
If the theme park is open from Memorial Day until, say, Nov. 1, it will have a 150-day season. That’s 2,000 people per day — on average — in Maggie Valley. Some of those will already have been there, some won’t. Any way you slice it, the dozens of restaurants, hotels, and other attractions dependent on travelers will benefit.
Sales tax money, some of which is returned to municipalities, will increase. That will help the town pay for increased police and other infrastructure needed to accommodate these new visitors.
With Ghost Town expected to open in 2007, Maggie Valley will have two large destination tourist attractions. Cataloochee Ski Resort and Tony’s Tube World have had a couple of great years and bring about 135,000 people to the valley every winter. This means that those who rely on tourists will have a destination attraction open from Memorial Day until — if the weather holds — April 1. That’s just two months of down time.
Places like Wheels Through Time have also been added to the mix in recent years. Many in Haywood County have a love-hate relationship with proprietor Dale Walksler, but his museum is a unique attraction. It is a must-see for the growing number of motorcycle tourists who are seeking destinations. It is also a wonderful visit for children and adults who won’t ever ride a motorcycle but like machines, American history and the coolness of vintage bikes.
Throw in places like Eaglenest Entertainment and Carolina Nights, and Maggie Valley is a weekend trip unto itself. And of course there is Harrah’s Casino just over the mountain.
Is there a downside?
So if Ghost Town lives up to its new owners’ dreams, Maggie Valley becomes a boom town. With the theme park, Cataloochee Ski Area, and the normal tourists and second-home owners, more than half a million people will probably visit the town every year. Perhaps that is too conservative an estimate. Millions of dollars in construction will take place in the next few months. Hundreds of permanent and part-time workers will be needed.
People are ecstatic. Maggie Valley has turned a corner, and few want to even consider what some are touting as the downside to the news of Ghost Town’s revival. But here it is, in a nutshell: Maggie Valley was re-inventing itself as a more up-scale location for second-home owners. It was changing from a tourist town to a resort town, and some of the same players were a part of that metamorphosis. Cataloochee Ski Area brings in tourists, but it also makes the mountain town a great place for a second home. Maggie Valley Country Club’s improvements and its upscale condominiums were also a part of this transformation, along with everything else the Great Smoky Mountains offer to seasonal residents.
In this scenario, the trade-off was fewer tourists and part-time residents, but those who came spent more money. In the tourist town model, weekend visitors by the thousands spend less money but come in greater numbers. More tourists mean more traffic, more pollution and more wear and tear on infrastructure. Motel owners who invest little in their property will manage to survive because price will be the most important factor when the desire is to draw the most travelers.
The middle ground
I don’t pretend to know what the future holds. I can predict that dealing with traffic, crowds, noise, trash, pollution, and the need for increased law enforcement is about to become important for Maggie Valley. Finding the mix between economic success and quality of life will become an even more pressing challenge, especially as leaders will be torn between representing the sometimes conflicting needs of business owners and seasonal residents.
In a best-case scenario, a vibrant Maggie Valley will find a middle ground while it plays home to an ever-growing number of tourists. The news about Ghost Town is good. It will get better if town and county leaders spend some time planning for what’s about to come.
week of 4/1/09
Smoky Mountain News
Debts mount at theme park
By Becky Johnson • Staff writer
Ghost Town in the Sky amusement park in Maggie Valley has left a wake of unpaid bills with local companies over the past year, putting some small businesses in a bind during already difficult economic times.
Ghost Town owes around $2.5 million to a wide spectrum of companies: electricians, plumbers, contractors, ride engineers, building supply stores, TV stations and newspapers — more than 220 companies in all. The park’s recent Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing has left many business owners worried they will never see their money.
Several local businesses say they are disappointed they’ve been left holding the bag on Ghost Town’s debt with no hope of getting paid back any time soon — or ever if the park can’t pull through reorganization and faces foreclosure.
“This was the last thing we needed right now,” said John Mudge, owner of Apple Creek Electric in Waynesville. Apple Creek did extensive work at Ghost Town, revamping nearly all the dated wiring at the park. The company is still owed $4,800, Mudge said.
“I know it doesn’t sound like a lot, but for a small company in a small town, that money they haven’t paid us has ended up coming out of my own pocket,” Mudge said.
Out of his 30 years in the electrical business, this is the worst time he could have been hit with an unpaid bill of this magnitude. As a small business owner, Mudge only makes a modest salary of between $30,000 and $40,000 a year. When Ghost Town fell short on its payment, he still had to cover the salary of the employee who did the work. That led to cash flow problems of his own. Plus, the time he wasted doing work he wasn’t getting paid for could have been spent drumming up real business.
“Partially due to this, it has cost some of our men their jobs,” Mudge said.
Steve Shiver, the president of Ghost Town, said the company was banking on a loan to help pay off the debts. But the recession and credit crunch has made finding a loan short of impossible. Every loan they sought fell through, finally landing the park in bankruptcy.
“I truly feel sorry for all of those who we owe money to,” said Shiver.
Another small business owner on the line is Jackie Shuler at Balsam Equipment Rental.
“It is just killing me,” said Shuler, who’s owed $6,600. “That is a lot of money for a small business like me.”
Shuler has had a steady stream of equipment on loan to Ghost Town: scissors lifts, floor buffers, a demolition hammer, heated pressure washers. Ghost Town would typically let a bill accumulate, then pay it down just enough to keep renting.
“Then it snowballed,” Shuler said.
Burton Edwards, a Maggie Valley contractor who specializes in rock work, says he is still owed $28,000 on a quarter million dollar job. While Ghost Town paid the lion’s share — just enough to cover salaries for his workers, gas for his machinery and materials — there was nothing left over to pay his own salary with.
“I basically did the job for nothing,” Edwards said. “I have three children and that’s hurt my family.”
Suddenly faced with a cash flow problem of his own, he relied on a line of credit to keep going through the winter.
Edwards actually filed a civil suit against Ghost Town last fall demanding payment. Ghost Town managers are disputing the lien, claiming the rock wall he built failed.
A very long line
The small businesses owed money are at the back of a very long line to be paid. Ghost Town owes more $9.5 million to BB&T, which takes precedence before anyone else. While most of that sum stems from the purchase of the property by new owners two years ago, at least $3 million was racked up repairing equipment, upgrading infrastructure and generally renovating the dated amusement park.
Also at the front of the queue is roughly $208,000 in unpaid state sales tax and local property tax.
If the current owners can’t pull out of Chapter 11, the park will be put up for sale, likely to the highest bidder at an auction. It would have to bring nearly $10 million before the small businesses see any of the money they are owed.
“Most of the people who are owed probably won’t get the money if it goes to the courthouse steps,” Edwards said.
Shiver agrees, and says that’s why the people he owes money to need to be supporting him right now.
“The alternative is to close the doors and sell it on the courthouse steps for pennies on the dollar. If we close, we all, including the creditors, lose,” Shiver said. “There two options — get behind it or close the door.”
If the park is liquidated — whether the owners voluntarily throw in the towel or are forced to by the bankruptcy judge — it’s anyone’s guess how much it might sell for in these times. But most likely it would only be enough to cover the big loans from the financial institutions at the front of the line, whose debts are backed by the collateral of the property.
“The small business owner does get caught in the cross fire. They get the short end of the stick,” said attorney Gavin Brown, chairman of the Haywood County Economic Development Commission and Waynesville’s mayor.
An even longer line
While not listed by name on the bankruptcy filing — but caught in the crossfire nonetheless — are several local sales reps for national suppliers and vendors. Take Dick Cabe, a sales rep for apparel companies that provided Ghost Town with everything from T-shirts to ball caps to resell in its gift shops. Cabe’s salary is 100 percent commission based, leaving him holding a great big bag if Ghost Town doesn’t pay for the merchandise it ordered.
“If they don’t get paid I don’t put food on my table,” Cabe said. “Anytime you lose money in this economy it hurts. You never like to lose money.”
Margie Woodward, a sales rep for souvenirs stiffed out of her commission as well, said she is generally very careful about who she sells to on credit.
“Who is going to expect a company like that to file bankruptcy?” said Woodward, who lives in Jackson County.
After seeing the long list of people owed in the bankruptcy filing, Woodward doesn’t hold out much hope for getting paid.
“I have pretty much written it off,” Woodward said.
Ghost Town has similar debts across the country, from $45,000 to a company that makes cap guns in Tennessee to a company owed more than $300,000 for rebuilding the incline railway.
“It’s affected us drastically, extremely,” said Brannon Deal, the owner of Industrial Service Group of Georgia, the company that has been working on the incline railway. “When somebody hits your business for $300,000 and that’s the total amount of money you do in a year, it hit us hard. It’s got us in a financial bind like you can’t imagine.”
Ghost Town is contesting that payment, too, which is the subject of a civil lien filed last fall.
Local businesses say they wanted Ghost Town to succeed. Tourist traffic pulled in by the theme park has historically been an economic driver in Maggie Valley.
“Everybody here in Haywood County wanted it to be a go. It would be a fantastic thing,” said Shuler. “The whole community welcomed them with open arms.”
When Shuler is traveling and people ask where she’s from, they typically haven’t heard of Haywood County. But if she says Maggie Valley, it triggers the line people from here know well: “Oh, yeah, Ghost Town!”
“When I was a kid, we had season passes and would go there two and three times a week,” Shuler said. She remembers her uncle being scared to death riding the incline railway up the mountain, and still has pictures of her with the gunfighters.
Cabe, the sales rep for apparel merchandise, lives in Maggie and knows how much it means to the community.
“More than anything I’d love to see them succeed,” Cabe said.
That feeling led several business owners to give Ghost Town the benefit of the doubt as long as they could.
“We continued to work up there under promise of being paid, just because we were sure those guys would come through,” Mudge said. “After a certain point when money wasn’t forthcoming we just quit going.”
Businesses owed money saw Ghost Town start to fall behind on payments last summer, some as early as June, others not until August. When business owners broached the problem with Ghost Town management, they were all told the same thing.
“We’ve been told for months that they were going to pay our bill in a couple weeks. That’s been the story all along,” Mudge said. “Whoever we talk to up there, we get the same story. The bankruptcy came as a surprise in a way, because they kept assuring that wasn’t going to happen.”
At Balsam Rental Equipment, Shuler had a large lift valued at $100,000 on loan to the park that she wasn’t getting payments for.
“They kept saying ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’ll get it, you’ll get it,’” Shuler said.
But finally, Shuler went up to the park to take back the equipment.
“We had to get the men down off our big lift and tell them ‘Sorry, no pay, no rent,’” Shuler said.
That was in June. Shuler called every two weeks since then. She said she tried to be nice, hoping that would move her bill to the top of the stack. But it seems it didn’t work.
Edwards believes the Ghost Town management had to see the writing on the wall.
“At a certain point they had to know,” Edwards said. “I don’t hire people I can’t pay.”