The latest attempt to reinvigorate the aging Ghost Town amusement park in Maggie Valley has hit yet another major stumbling block, as one of the central figures in the efforts to restore the park has left the project amid accusations of fraud and failure to pay.
Lamar Berry, one of three principals in an LLC created to purchase the park from Ghost Town owner Alaska Presley, left town for parts unknown on Dec. 4, after other partners in the project began to press him for a timeline for the millions of dollars in investments he’d promised would serve as the engine driving the project forward.
“When we started questioning him on his sources of funding, he quit coming to the office,” said Allen Alsbrooks, the finance director for the New Ghost Town project before it was scuttled.
Alsbrooks joined the team after performing some landscaping work for the group, and quickly moved into a leadership position alongside Berry and former Disney executives Valerie and Spencer Oberle. He was initially asked to do some accounting work for the group, and was ultimately given the finance director job.
The plan, Alsbrooks said, was for the group to invest some of their own money as a stopgap measure while Berry lined up major investors to get the project off the ground. The Oberles and Alsbrooks put money into the project for that purpose, along with fellow investor and part owner John Kovack, but Berry didn’t have any of his own money invested. In fact, according to Alsbrooks, Berry’s involvement was minimal across the board, but he was designated as one of three principals in the company along with two associates in Louisiana — Charlton Ogden and Gary Dixon.
“Valerie and Spencer and I and one of their friends are the only three people outside of that Louisiana Triangle with actual money in the project,” Alsbrooks said. “We’ve worked every day on plans, on what it will take to bring it back to life, we’re the ones who were setting up timelines and budgets, planning restaurants and merchandise.”
The money never arrived, though — Alsbrooks said there was a laundry list of excuses for why investors never came through, to the point where the group reached the inevitable conclusion that there would be no investors brought onboard. By the second week of September, they’d agreed that the promises were essentially meaningless.
“I put my money in back in June, and I was supposed to have it back in July, but then something would happen and no money would come,” Alsbrooks said. “Then we’d get a new date and no money would come.”
Room and board
Alsbrooks owns Hearth and Home Inn in Waynesville, and he said Berry had been staying there while he worked on the project. With finances running pretty tight, the group agreed they would all pay their own costs when necessary, including lodging costs.
“Instead of the company paying it, they paid their own bills,” Alsbrooks said. “Lamar never did, and each time I made up a bill at the end of the month and gave it to them so it would be recorded in the system. Finally, it got to the point where it was $3,300 or so.”
Alsbrooks said the group confronted Berry about the money near the end of September, at which point he left the motel without settling the bill. Berry moved into Presley’s basement, and stopped showing up to the office.
“He said he’d handle it and he walked out,” Alsbrooks said. “That’s when he quit coming in, because there was always a confrontation about the investment money.”
Alsbrooks has since filed a lawsuit against Berry, accusing him of “defrauding an innkeeper.” That suit has yet to be settled.
The $3,300 in unpaid lodging expenses is small potatoes compared to a lien filed for $52,551 by Clark and Leatherwood, Inc., the construction company overseeing the work done on the property so far. In the claim, Clark and Leatherwood asserts that labor and materials valued at that amount were furnished to complete the rehabilitation of Ghost Town’s A-frame building, various inspections and consulting on the foundations for the park’s chairlift. The lien was placed on the property on Oct. 31.
The path ahead
With regards to Berry’s involvement in the project and his partners in Louisiana, Alsbrooks said they are no longer in the picture in any way.
“New Ghost Town is done, absolutely, unless by some miracle of miracles he finds money and comes back with it,” he said.
As for the remaining partners in the project, it’s not clear what the future holds. There are no confirmed plans to abandon the project or move forward in a different direction. Alsbrooks said the Maggie Valley partners are doing their due diligence to assess the state of the project, but it’s too early to say definitively if they’ll be continuing on without Berry or not.