By Jesse Wood
April 20, 2012. After four hours discussing other issues, the Boone Town Council listened to a presentation from organizers of the Daniel Boone Park on Thursday night.
And after another hour of rehashing thoughts regarding the proposed $10 million development project, the council members endorsed the proposed conceptual master plan – but not without successfully pressing for involvement of its own recent creation, the Cultural Resources Board, which will oversee cultural activities in the town, to be in on the action.
Leigh was the lone dissenter in the 4-1 vote, balking at the notion of the endorsement this early in the project, and after she mentioned that the Cultural Resources Board would become a major stakeholder, one gentleman, who had sat through the previous proceedings for four and half hours, rose from his chair and walked out of the council chambers.
The “probable” projected budget of the Daniel Boone Park is $9.97 million, much more than the initial $4 to $5 million dollar capital campaign that had been mentioned months before. Council Member Andy Ball said that $10 million figure would be “sticker shock for most people.”
The new total includes $2.01 million for infrastructure such as demolition, sidewalks, landscaping, parking and parkway over Strawberry Hill; $2.06 million for structures and facilities, such as restoration of amphitheatre, seating bowl, back of the house, restrooms, concessions and pavilions; $2.1 million dollars for community center; $1.11 million for Farmers’ Market plaza and covered markets and pavilion; $500,000 for park restrooms and park facilities; and $800,000 for park elements that include garden expansion, stone steps, an observation tower on Strawberry Hill and general landscaping.
The master plan includes a new version of Horn in the West Drive; curving up the lower portion of Strawberry Hill and connecting to traffic light at State Farm Road. Also, this concept won’t have any roads further up Strawberry Hill. The original version of this concept, before it became the conceptual master plan, featured a road and parking lot ending atop Strawberry Hill.
Leigh, who is on the project’s steering committee, said that moving Jaycees Park and Playground up onto Strawberry Hill and paving a parking lot where the park is now didn’t appeal to her and wouldn’t receive her endorsement vote.
She also mentioned that four people called her before Thursday night’s town council meeting to express their concerns about the proposed Daniel Boone Park. She said that those individuals said the park is “too big, too grandiose, too much for Boone.
“One person said, ‘We would like it more, if it was less,’” Leigh said. “I certainly endorse the fact that something needs to happen, but I don’t endorse something of this magnitude … This is too big for Boone.”
Council Member Rennie Brantz, who is also on the steering committee, disagreed: “I don’t think it’s too big for Boone.”
He added that the park “unifies who we are as a community …the forward and the backward [times],” he said, alluding to the dichotomy of the High Country, which has both a traditional mountain culture and a progressive community.
Eric Woolridge of the Watauga County Tourism Development Authority (TDA) and Fred Halback of design and consulting firm Marquis Halback presented the conceptual master plan to the board. Woolridge said he was requesting four things from the board: that the board “not necessarily adopt,” but endorse the plan; authorize the TDA to work on behalf of the town, Daniel Boone Park, the Southern Appalachian Historical Association (SAHA) and other stakeholders to realize the Daniel Boone Park facility; give SAHA authority to move forward with a capital campaign to redevelop the amphitheatre and surrounding area; and move forward with a development and operational plan for the facility that will outline facility management opportunities and long-term MOU or lease opportunities, all the while working with Town of Boone officials. (Sometime in August or September, the council and Cultural Resources Board will engage in special workshop to review plan developed by TDA, which will engage various stakeholders.)
After the board originally balked at allowing SAHA to begin a capital campaign – partly because Boone is already undergoing a capital campaign with the restoration of the old Appalachian Twin Theatre and also, as Council Member Lynne Mason said, its “premature,” – Woolridge rephrased his request as “providing SAHA the authority to move forward with additional planning and the authority to raise money” for the redevelopment of the amphitheatre.
After lengthy discussion regarding the project in general and no motion for approval or rejection in sight, Billy Ralph Winkler, chair of SAHA, said, “We have momentum finally after all these years. We don’t want to stop now.” A few minutes later, Woolridge asked, “Do we have to wait for the Cultural Resources Board?”
To which, Leigh replied, “I am suggesting we wait for the cultural resources board. We are not looking at the board to be formed in next six years; we are looking [at it forming] in next few months.”
One of the main deterrents for Leigh regarding the project’s endorsement was the potential to not be able to make changes to the conceptual plan after the fact. Mayor Loretta Clawson agreed, saying now is the time to make any changes. Council Member Lynne Mason’s major concern was the timeline of the project. “Are we looking at 10 years, 15 years?,” Mason said. No time frame was given at the meeting.
Brantz countered both of Leigh’s and Mason’s points regarding the ability – or lack thereof – to make changes and the unknown time frame of the project. He said the beauty of this project lies in the fact “it doesn’t have to implemented all at once.” Brantz said that the project can be envisioned as a whole and put together like a puzzle – “even if we only have a couple pieces to begin with.”
The board voted to approve Woolridge’s requests and the endorsement of the master conceptual plan, contingent upon involving the Cultural Resource Board in all future developments and scaling down SAHA’s request to begin a capital campaign because, as mentioned earlier, it was “premature” and would possibly overlap potential donors whose dollars were already bequeathed to the old Appalachian Twin Theatre.