A dozen years after pitching in $115,000 for a sports complex on Jonathan Creek, Maggie Valley leaders have asked the county for their money back.
County leaders have agreed in principle to pay Maggie back, since the idea of a sports complex is now dead.
“That’s only fair,” County Commissioner Chairman Kevin Ensley said. “The concept they agreed to in 2007 is not happening anymore. So it is just the right thing to do to compensate them for that.”
Maggie Valley threw in the dough as a pot sweetener when the county was contemplating whether to buy the 22-acre site. At the time, county commissioners were locked in a protracted bidding war for the land.
Maggie’s contribution helped tip the scales, and the county bought the property for $1.1 million.
Plans called for turning the tract into a sports complex that could host baseball and softball tournaments. Maggie leaders saw the complex as a win for its tourism economy.
The sports complex plans were sidelined during the recession, however, and continued to languish due to the large cost of bringing the dream to fruition.
A couple years ago, the county gave up on the idea for good and instead decided to put the site toward economic development — namely by offering it up to a company or industry that would bring jobs.
Since Maggie had thrown in money on the premise of a recreation complex, the town now wants to be paid back.
“The time has come we need to do that,” Ensley said.
While the county isn’t putting up a fight about giving the money back, it doesn’t necessarily have a choice. A contract signed by both parties in 2007 spelled out that the property was to be used for a “recreational complex,” which hasn’t come to pass.
“There is a caveat in there that says it must be used for recreation,” Maggie Valley Town Manager Nathan Clark said. “It was well thought out when the money changed hands. So that makes this transition a little bit easier.”
Few of the local leaders who pursed the Jonathan Creek land 12 years ago are still in office now. Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick is the only remaining commission member who was on the county board back then. In Maggie’s camp, only a couple board members are still left.
Even in hindsight, the decision wasn’t wrong, according to Maggie Alderman Mike Eveland.
“I think Maggie back in the day did the right thing by investing that money. Unfortunately, those things didn’t come out the way they wanted them to,” he said.
Maggie leaders briefly discussed what they would do with their $115,000 windfall at a town board agenda-setting meeting last week.
“Whenever they write us a check, can we set that money aside in a category for park improvements?” asked Maggie Alderwoman Janet Banks.
Banks said one option would be putting the money toward a splash pad — an area where kids frolic in spraying fountains and shooting streams of water. Banks has taken up the idea of a splash pad as a personal initiative as a family-oriented recreation amenity for the town.
Eveland agreed the money should be set aside for a recreation project of some sort, arguing it should be used in “a similar fashion it was generally intended for.”
County and Maggie officials held a meeting of the minds last week to talk about the issue. County commissioners Kevin Ensley and Brandon Rogers attended the meeting, but the full board of commissioners will ultimately have to sign off on it.
“We agreed in principle, but we haven’t taken it to the full board yet,” County Manager Bryant Morehead said.
The exact timeline for how the money will be repaid also has to be worked out.
“We just kind of shrugged our shoulders and said ‘Let’s get our respective finance people together to figure out the best way to repay this,’” Clark said.
Clark said there are no hard feeling between the town and county.
“I can’t say enough about the true sense of partnership and teamwork the town and county have with each other. It is a good feeling to have that your are pulling in the same direction and understand the hardships and realities we all go through,” Clark said.