By Jesse Wood
Aug. 18, 2014. The Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual State of the Town last Thursday for the community to learn about a number of ongoing projects within the town. The meeting was held at the Blowing Rock History & Art Museum.
Chamber Executive Director Charles Hardin led off the meeting by describing a recent retreat trip that the chamber board took to “competitor towns” in Western North Carolina. Hardin also noted that an outside focus group, featuring chamber executives from communities similar to Blowing Rock, that will give the Blowing Rock Chamber their thoughts of the town after a tour.
Hardin also mentioned that projects the chamber are championing are the Middle Fork Greenway, which is currently under construction and one day will link the towns of Blowing Rock, Boone and Todd via a pedestrian and cycling greenway; the Gateway Project, which will enhance the “gateways” into Blowing Rock and intrigue visitors into turning off the highway and on into the downtown strip; Rotary Gazebo, which is a project to expand the gazebo at Memorial Park; and the Firehouse Theatre, which is a proposed 122-seat Ensemble Stage theatre in the old fire station on Park Avenue.
The mission of the Blowing Rock Chamber is to promote economic development in the town, and Hardin noted that chamber has worked with retailers to extend operation hours through the busy months of May to October.
U.S. 321 Widening Project Update
N.C. Department of Transportation Resident Engineer Doug Eller provided a brief update on the status of the U.S. 321 widening project, which is still on an “attainable” schedule to be completed by the contract deadline of July 3, 2016.
“Compared to last time, you can see a considerable amount of progress taking place and you can start to see how project is going to shape and how traffic flow will be through Blowing Rock when we’re finished,” Eller said.
Eller added that 43 percent of the project is complete. That figure is based on payments to the contractor for the work completed. Eller was happy to announce that, pending the unknown, “no more full-fledged road closures” should occur due to blasting now that more than 95 percent of unclassified materials such as rocks and boulders, has been removed.
That 95 percent figure represented 320,000 cubic yards moved. To give an ideal of the scope of the project, Eller added that 293,000 tons of boulders and rocks were moved. The project features 40 retaining walls, too.
Eller also mentioned that 10,830 feet of storm water drainage pipe were installed; 9,700 feet of new water lines have been installed along with 4,300 feet of new sewer lines.
“[This work] isn’t visible on the surface, but it’s been going on in the ground,” Eller said.
Message from the Mayor
“We’ve had another great year in Blowing Rock,” Mayor J.B. Lawrence said at the lightly attended event.
Lawrence noted that the weather has been a lot dryer, which has been a good thing considering what havoc the rain wreaked on some of the roads in the town.
Lawrence noted that about an hour before he was standing in the museum talking to the folks attending the State of the Town event he received a call from someone who was supposed to make a “significant” contribution to the Firehouse Theatre project had backed out for the time being.
“She continues to be interested. Hopefully, something will come up with that in the future,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence then praised the hiring of new Town Manager Scott Fogleman as one of the year’s “biggest accomplishments.”
“We are delighted to have him on board. Anybody who has had any interaction with Scott knows what a quality individual he is,” Lawrence said, adding that if he had any criticism to direct towards Fogleman’s way it is that he works too much.
Update from Town Manager Scott Fogleman
An enthusiastic Fogleman talked about the Gateway Project and showed slides of artistic renderings. For example, one of the gateway entrances to downtown Blowing Rock is located at the intersection of Sunset Drive and U.S. 321.
Fogleman mentioned that this project is intended to entice folks into venturing downtown and make folks who drive by say, “Man, I gotta see what’s up there.”
Fogleman talked about some of the needed road construction after the drenching 2013. Fogleman noted that repairs to Quail Drive cost $70,000 and is complete. Fogleman said that Wonderland Trail repairs, which are estimated to come in at $385,00, is still being worked on and is expected to be complete in “a month or so.”
Blowing Rock qualified for government funding to pay for the road repairs due to the region being identified as a disaster area during the floods of 2013.
Fogleman noted that the Blowing Rock Town Council voted to increase property taxes for fiscal-year 2014-15 this past June. Fogleman said the 2.3-cent increase was necessary to balance the budget in light of the declining property revaluation.
Fogleman also shared a historical graph noting the population of Blowing Rock. The graph showed that from 1991 to 2014, Blowing Rock’s population had nearly zero growth. In 1991, the population was 1,267, and in 2014, the population was 1,286.
Fogleman informed those in attendance of the November bond referendum, where voters can approve of funding up to $13 million in infrastructure improvements to roads, water and sewer lines and parks. See more about this issue here.