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Boone Town Council Reinstates Revoked License for SAHA’s Use of ‘Horn in the West’ Facilities for Rest of 2014

By Jesse Wood

Sept. 18, 2014. With the meeting room packed with Southern Appalachian Historical Association supporters, the Boone Town Council voted 4-1 to reinstate SAHA’s license to operate on the “Horn in the West” facilities for the remainder of year on Thursday night. Councilwoman Jennifer Pena was the lone nay vote.

Last month, the Boone Town Council revoked SAHA’s license to use the property because of a violations regarding electrical work on the property and for failure of completing improvements that were agreed upon before the town agreed to allow SAHA to produce the “Horn in the West” outdoor drama for the 2014 season.

Alex McNiel holds a sign supporting "Horn in the West" on U.S. 321 minutes before the council meeting. Photo by Jesse Wood
Alex McNiel holds a sign supporting “Horn in the West” on U.S. 321 minutes before the council meeting. Photo by Jesse Wood

The license was modified after the completion of the season in August and SAHA was ordered to vacate the premises immediately (with exception to the Hickory Ridge Living Museum, which SAHA also produces, and associated related parking spaces), according to a letter the town sent to the SAHA board. Mayor Andy Ball said that SAHA could come back before the council to request a license to operate on the property in 2015.

SAHA replied that a “miscommunication” between the town and SAHA led to the fallout.

But before the license was reinstated on Thursday evening, several community speakers spoke on behalf of “Horn in the West” and Councilman Rennie Brantz presented a list of SAHA requested amendments to the recently modified lease that would allow SAHA to access the property, store equipment in the facilities, carry out activities with the Hickory Ridge Living Museum and set the framework for discussions with the town regarding the renewal of the license before the 2015 Horn in the West season.

Supporters of the nation’s oldest revolutionary war drama cited the historical importance and economic impact that that drama has on the Boone area. They also recounted memories of seeing the play as a child.

“I still remember seeing ‘Horn in the West’ 50 years ago when I was a child. How many people remember [something] that happened 50 years ago and, much less, remember it with such a passion?” Susan Coffey said. “The cool things I remember from that play were being outside in the summer mountain air under the stars, surrounded by rhododendron and seeing an awesome drama.”

Coffey challenged the town’s Cultural Resources Advisory Board, Boone Planning & Inspections Department, SAHA and the Boone Town Council to “work together to fix” these issues that have surfaced, as Councilman Quint David said, at nearly every monthly meeting in recent memory.

“We are going to save it and preserve it and protect it and then promote it,” Coffey said, referring to the economic impact that the preservation of this cultural resource will have on the town and surrounding High Country. “…This is a crown jewel of the Blue Ridge.”

After the public comment period of the meeting, the council eventually discussed SAHA’s request to amend the modified license to renew SAHA’s access of the property. Following Councilwoman Lynne Mason and Councilman Rennie Brantz – both didn’t vote to revoke the license in the first place – talk in favor of renewing SAHA’s license, Councilman Quint David said, “I’ll be the stick in the mud.”

David, who works in the construction industry, said safety issues are a “top priority” – which all the council members agreed with. David cited concerns from Town Attorney Sam Furgiuele, feared negligence on the part of the Town of Boone, as the owner of the property, if “basic public safety issues” aren’t addressed in a timely manner.

(Brantz, after the meeting, said the prior violations were taken care of and at as of right now no known violations exist.)

David mentioned that the phrase “miscommunication” has been thrown around for these unresolved issues. “But these problems continue to surface year after year. At what point does it become negligible on our part?” he asked. David also mentioned that the town doesn’t have other plans for the property other than for “Horn in the West” performances – as some rumored during public comment.

Councilman Fred Hay noted that just because the council initially revoked the license because of “repeated warnings” doesn’t mean that the council doesn’t fully support SAHA.

When council discussed amending various portions of the amended license for SAHA, Furgiuele noted that board should just reinstate the license rather than piecemeal it together if it favored the amendments.

After a lengthy discussion, Brantz made a motion to reinstate the license, which included language that the town manager is authorized to revoke the license again if violations are found.

David and Brantz noted that they would be attending SAHA board meetings to keep up-to-date on this matter.