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Watauga Commissioners, Boone Council Hold Discussions on SAHA, ‘Horn in the West’ Facility Matters

By Jesse Wood

Feb. 18, 2014. Improvements to and demolition of “Horn in the West” facilities were topics at overlapping meetings of the Watauga County Board of Commissioners and Boone Town Council Tuesday evening.

Representatives of Southern Appalachian Historical Association – which produces “Horn in the West,” the longest-running Revolutionary War outdoor drama in the nation heading into its 63rd consecutive season – first attended the commissioners meeting, appearing before the board to request $25,500 for the next fiscal year.

SAHA also requested that county demolish a structure on the “Horn in the West” property and waive any associated landfill tipping fees.

"Horn in the West" is the nation's oldest Revolutionary War drama in the nation.
“Horn in the West” is the nation’s oldest Revolutionary War drama in the nation.

In 2013, the county gave SAHA $8,400 in emergency funding before “Horn in the West” drama opened after the Town of Boone denied an emergency funding request, citing a revenue shortfall because of the redistribution of the county sales tax. That emergency funding was in addition to $12,000 budgeted for the current fiscal year. 

The commissioners decided not to discuss the $25,500 request until the upcoming budget retreat that takes place on Friday and Saturday, but the board did approve a motion to use county staff and equipment for the demolition and to waive the tipping fees – contingent that no asbestos is found.

SAHA was requesting the county to demolish the PIT building because a new roof, which would cost $54,000, is needed and, as Clyde Burleson, speaking on behalf of SAHA said, “Quite honestly, the building is not worth it.” Burleson said SAHA plans to rent a storage container until it replaces the building that was used for props and a dressing room.

In October, the Boone Town Council approved an “immediate needs” list compiled by Boone Planning & Inspections department for improvements to the “Horn in the West” property and the PIT building was on the list.

The Town of Boone initially authorized and allocated $20,000 for several improvements and demolitions on the property, but the board rescinded its authorization and allocation after SAHA requested the chance to repair the facilities instead of demolishing the facilities. It also sought an independent structural engineer’s opinion.  

But as Billy Ralph Winkler, a Cultural Resources Advisory Board (CRAB) member with the Town of Boone and a SAHA supporter, said at CRAB meeting to discuss similar issues two weeks ago, “Obviously, [SAHA] didn’t get the report they were expecting to get.”

A structural engineer from the firm Taylor & Viola essentially confirmed the Town of Boone’s Planning & Inspections’ analysis of the structures.

In December, the Boone Town Council approved a 60-day extension of the current, short-term license in order for SAHA to establish a detailed plan on repairing the “Horn in the West” facilities and present it to Fotta and CRAB. That extension was set to expire at the end of February.

Since SAHA had yet to come up with a plan by the time CRAB met in early February, CRAB recommended that the Boone Town Council grant another 60-day extension on the current, short term license agreement that now expires on April 11.

The CRAB motion on the 60-day extension also directed SAHA to give Fotta a “list of deliverables” by Feb. 24 that included an update on a plan of 2014 operations at “Horn in the West,” a timeline of proposed repairs, cost of repairs, plans and drawings of repairs and proof of financial means to pay for repairs.

Meanwhile, Pilar Fotta, cultural resources director with the Town of Boone, continues to wait on SAHA to come up with a plan, so she can draft a longer-term license on the Daniel Boone Park property that also is utilized by the Watauga County Farmers’ Market and consists of a permitted parking lot. The goal is to finalize the license agreements before the operating seasons begin in the spring.

Boone Town Council Feb. 18 Meeting

The Boone Town Council on Feb. 18 passed a motion mirroring CRAB’s recommendation, and essentially set an ultimatum that if SAHA doesn’t show any progress, staff and the council will go about, as Councilman Quint David said, “the next course of action without complete input” from SAHA.

But before any motions were passed, Fotta gave an update on new information to the Boone Town Council. Fotta, who also attended the Watauga County Board of Commissioners meeting an hour earlier, updated the council of what transpired at the commissioners meeting and what has happened since the council met in January. 

She mentioned that she didn’t know the scope of the demolitions that the commissioners approved. She mentioned that the Boone Planning & Inspections department received two demolition permits on behalf of SAHA that were for one project. She mentioned that SAHA was requested to submit information only through Fotta, who would then channel it to relevant town staff members. She also mentioned that when she has received information it has conflicted with prior information she received. 

“There are many different voices instead of one person going through the Cultural Resources Department,” Fotta said.

Planning Director Bill Bailey also mentioned that repairs to unpermitted electrical work that occurred in the past have yet to be fixed, although a permit has been issued for the work and the town has given SAHA the go ahead to fix the problem.

“We’re just waiting on the electrical work to happen,” Bailey said.

Bailey also mentioned that the utilization of county employees and equipment could complicate the current process even more because of liability issues and questions on who is overseeing the operation – the county or town.

Councilman Quint David said while it was “great” the county is assisting in the project, he noted that it was “strange” that SAHA was sidestepping the town to demolish the PIT building.

Town Attorney Sam Furgiuele also noted that only the town council is authorized to approve the demolition of buildings, and Town Manager Greg Young said no buildings have been authorized to be demolished.

The motion also included directed Town Manager Greg Young to contact County Manager Deron Geouque about the situation of both governments being involved in this process.

Speaking on Wednesday morning, Michelle Ligon, former chair and current board member on SAHA, said the SAHA board seemed “surprised” that Fotta told council that she hadn’t received enough information. (The current SAHA chair is on business in China.)

She did mention that after talking with Councilman Rennie Brantz, who stressed unsuccessfully for more flexibility for SAHA several times at last night’s meeting, that Fotta was seeking “more details” than what had been given to Fotta in the recent past. In any event, Ligon said requested “list of deliverables” would be ready on Feb. 24, but she didn’t sound too confident that every single line item would be addressed by that deadline.

The Feb. 24 deadline gives time for CRAB to meet and make another recommendation before the Boone Town Council’s March meeting. 

Ligon mentioned that last year 7,826 audience members attended “Horn in the West” productions – and that was during one of the rainiest summers ever. She mentioned that in 2012, almost 11,000 attended the outdoor drama.

She also noted that a N.C. Division of Tourism, Film & Sports Development study estimated the economic impact of “Horn in the West” at over $2 million.

Will the show go on? 

At the CRAB meeting in early February, CRAB Chair Frank Mohler, repeating what a SAHA board member told him, said, “There will be a show one way or another [but] it may not be like it used to be.”

With all these matters swirling around “Horn in the West,” SAHA is holding auditions for the outdoor drama on Feb. 22 at First Baptist Church.