By Kristin Fox
At the November meeting of the Swain County Board of Commissioners, county officials voted 3-1 to enter into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Swain County Tourism Development Authority (TDA). The MOU establishes an agreement between Swain County and the TDA in reference to the use of county property for purpose of relocation of the Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians.
The museum will be moving from its current location at 210 Main Street to its new location at 117 Island Street adjacent to the existing location of the Appalachian Rivers Aquarium.
As the rivers and streams of the NC mountains and foothills are among the most popular destinations for anglers, especially those who are avid about fly fishing, the museum is also a popular destination for anglers. Many anglers come to Bryson City each year to fish the delayed harvest section of the Tuckasegee River that runs through the center of town, as well as other nearby streams.
The museum is filled with exhibits and videos showcasing profiles of legendary “Stream Blazers,” the evolution of rods and reels, basic knots, fly-tying, types of gear, types of gamefish, regional fishing waters, and the history of fly fishing in the Southeast. The museum will continue to be home to many fly-fishing artifacts.
The museum also honors prominent proponents of the sport of fly fishing in the Fly Fishing Hall of Fame. The 2016 inaugural inductees include Jim Casada (Communications), Walter Cary (Crafts), Wanda Taylor (Recreation), and Phil Bracewell, Sr. (Conservation).
The Appalachian Rivers Aquarium is a small, native species aquarium on the banks of the Tuckaseegee River in downtown Bryson City. Though the outside may look unassuming, within its small frame there are over 4000 gallons of water, housing over 15 different species of freshwater fish and well over 30 individuals.
The county will provide the necessary labor for the construction of the 1,800 square feet building that will house the museum as a swap for tourism money earned from the sale of Everett Street property. The construction isn’t expected to exceed the $80,000 profit from the sale of the property.
The TDA will provide the all materials and equipment necessary for the construction of the new museum structure. The TDA will have exclusive use and possession of the existing aquarium building and the new museum building. The county will maintain exclusive use and possession of the existing barn storage building on the premises to be used as the county deems needed with unimpeded access.
The TDA will provide responsible builder risk insurance for the construction project. Upon completion of the building, the TDA will be responsible for providing hazard and liability insurance for the entire premises of the museum, aquarium, parking and all the premises that are associated with the museum and aquarium with the county being named as the loss payee of the policy. The liability insurance will be required to be at least one million dollars.
Once construction is completed, the TDA will be responsible for the cost of the museum’s electricity, water, gas, sewer, trash pickup and internet. In addition, the TDA will be responsible for repairing and maintaining the existing aquarium & museum buildings and grounds including but not limited to the windows, roof, heating and ventilation system.
The agreement between the county and the TDA is for 10 years with an additional 10-year option to extend the agreement. In event the aquarium and/or the museum are unable to operate, the TDA will have option to use the building(s) as another tourism related function.
In other county and TDA business, Shannon Lackey, TDA representative, came before the board during the public comment period with other TDA business. Lackey asked the board for clarification concerning the ownership of the parking lot beside the Swain County Visitor Center and Heritage Museum. The TDA has electric vehicle (EV) charging stations in two parking spaces in the lot.
His concern before the board involved the ownership of the property and whether or not the TDA should continue to put money into the parking lot and maintenance of the electric vehicle (EV) charging stations if the property is not owned by the county.
Lackey stated the TDA has spent well over $60,000 on the parking lot and still has additional utility costs. According to Lackey, the TDA is paying thousands of dollars in utilities and maintenance of the parking lot and charging stations every year.
Before the TDA moves forward with restriping the parking lot, signage and the maintenance of the charging stations as well as the cost of maintaining the meter at the parking lot, the group wanted clarification of the property ownership.
The property is listed as owned by Community Services of Swain County, a nonprofit. Since 2009, the county has been leasing the property and has a solid lease-purchase agreement with the entity. The county received a $350,000 North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund Grant for construction of the parking lot, a pavilion, and the area beside the lot, something that would have not been possible if the county wasn’t going to own the property in the future.
The board reassured Lackey the property will one day belong to the county and there is no way it will end up as anyone else’s property. They stated the TDA can safely continue to make improvements to the parking lot and maintain the two EV charging stations. The county will be done with the purchase agreement for the property in 2041.
Ben Bushyhead, Chairman of the Swain County Board of Commissioners, suggested that the TDA consider locating the additional EV charging stations on other county-owned property. He suggested the courthouse, recreation park and the administration building as other areas the TDA could install the EV charging stations.