In the near future, Swain County is poised to welcome back a Christmas drive-thru lightshow and an array of concerts, festivals, fairs, and other events at the Great Smoky Mountains Event Park (formerly Inspiration Park on Hyatt Creek Road). The Swain County Tourism and Development Authority (TDA) is gearing up to enhance the utilization of the property.
On January 23, the Swain County Board of Commissioners approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the TDA for the event park in a 3-2 decision, with commissioners David Loftis and Kenneth Parton in opposition.
The TDA’s request for the MOU emphasizes the desire to ensure year-round availability of the event park for various events. They plan to hire a full-time event manager and host an annual drive-thru Christmas light show. The approved MOU grants 10 years of access at no cost to the TDA for TDA-sponsored events. It includes exclusive use of the park for November and December for the Christmas light show, as well as some time in October and January for set up and take down.
Additional provisions include the county serving as a liaison with the adjacent property owner and the use of Swain County employee(s) as needed with compensation. The TDA also requested a county site for storing three semi-trailers that will house the lights.
Shannon Lackey, a TDA board member, addressed the commissioners, highlighting the similarity of this agreement to those for the visitor’s center and aquarium. Lackey emphasized the TDA’s investment in the property and the need to maximize its use for events.
One major event the TDA aims to revive is a Christmas drive-through lightshow. They plan to purchase lights, with an initial investment of around $700,000. The TDA has received input from citizens and local nonprofits expressing a desire for the light show to return.
Commissioner Loftis raised questions about the financial viability of the light show, to which Chairman Kevin Seagle explained the need for an events coordinator. The urgency to make a decision was justified by potential savings on light purchases if decided by January 31.
Commissioner Parton expressed skepticism about the necessity of the MOU, while Commissioner Parsons supported providing the TDA with the guarantee it sought. The MOU was ultimately approved with a 3-2 vote.
In the financial report, it was revealed that the TDA operated at a deficit from October to December, totaling $173,712 by December. The deficit was attributed to expenditures outweighing revenue from occupancy tax.
The commissioners also discussed environmental health on-site fees, library renovations, and other action items during the meeting.