Legion Hill rendering

A rendering of the proposed Legion Hill amphitheater with ADA-accessible walkways was presented to the Blowing Rock Town Council on Feb. 11.

The Blowing Rock Village Foundation got the council’s blessing to move forward with a plan aiming to create handicap-accessible walkways between the American Legion Hall, its adjoining parking deck and Broyhill Park, as well as create a terraced amphitheater in the hillside.

The preliminary plan was presented by the Village Foundation’s John Aldridge and Jim Pitts, which included renderings of what the space could look like once finished.

However, as warned by Aldridge, the project might not even get off the ground due to the estimated cost of $750,000 to $850,000, which the local investment nonprofit is seeking to raise.

“This is going to be a heavy lift for the Village Foundation and for the town,” Aldridge said. “It will take multiple six-figure gifts.”

“Why not try,” Aldridge said in his justification for going forward with the project.

Aldridge stressed the importance of receiving the full support of the town going into the feasibility stage of the plan.

“We need the town to say this is one of our top priorities in the next couple of years,” Aldridge said. “we need strong, proactive support from the town … to lock arms with us and the community to get this done.”

Council members unanimously expressed their love of the concept and were on board with “locking arms” with the Village Foundation as they go forward with the feasibility study.

Aldridge said he wants all the funding to be private, saying that public funding including grants can be a “can of worms.”

The Village Foundation, which according to Pitts was formed to lessen the financial burden on town government for specific infrastructure projects, will research the feasibility of raising the funds during the next two months, and then make a determination in April of whether to commit to fundraising for the project or not.

If the Village Foundation and its board decided to continue, they plan to return to the town council in January 2021 to receive final approval and to partner with the town on construction, which is planned to take place from March-September 2021.

The public-private partnership would have ownership by the town and be constructed by the Blowing Rock Economic Development Council.

The previous project funded by the Village Foundation, the Mayview Plaza, was completed in September 2018. Since then, the Village Foundation and the Blowing Rock Economic Development Council have discussed various ideas before the foundation formally adopted it as its next community infrastructure project, Pitts said.

The idea came from a Virginia Tech student-created master plan made in 2017, which looked at how to best utilize the entire area.

“It’s a highly underutilized area,” Pitts said. “It’s steep, either overgrown or marginally maintained.”

Currently, the hill has stairs on it, which Pitts called “unsafe” and noted there was no access compatible with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Pitts later added there is the potential to apply for grants if needed, explaining that the accessibility provisions of the project would look good to various public funding agencies.

The preliminary plan for the hill includes ADA-accessible walkways made out of pressure-treated wood, incorporating an existing bench area into a area for monuments commemorating the history of Blowing Rock and a boardwalk with viewing locations. The walkways could include security lights and “tasteful” columns with lighted caps.

The “sex appeal” of the project, as Pitts called it, would be the terraced amphitheater that could be used for performances, picnics, educational opportunities and much more for up to 50-100 people. The seating areas would be made of stone and grass, Pitts said.

“It would be a space that no mountain town has,” Pitts said.

In another infrastructure move at the meeting, the council voted 3-2 to move forward with a estimated $200,000 plan to landscape several areas along Valley Boulevard seen as “entrances” to the town, including the “Welcome to Blowing Rock” signs and areas at the intersections of North Main Street, Sunset Drive and at the Blowing Rock Fire and Rescue Department.

Councilpersons Sue Sweeting, Virginia Powell and Doug Matheson voted in favor while David Harwood and Albert Yount were against.

The process of using flowers and stonework at several popular locations in town has already been implemented in front of town hall, Broyhill Park and at the Blowing Rock Police Department.

Landscaping director Chris Pate showed several renderings what the areas currently look like, and what they would look like after landscaping is completed, mainly using stone-based flower beds.

One major change , Pate explained, would be at the intersection of Sunset Drive and Valley Boulevard in front of the Blowing Rock Citgo. The idea would include terraced stone works from behind to present flower beds.

“The purpose is continuity,” Blowing Rock Town Manager Shane Fox said.

The approved plan comes after multiple years and multiple ideas pushed forward. A recent idea by the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce for a “gateway” along Sunset Drive near Valley Boulevard was previously put on hold in November 2019 after concerns were raised about the estimated $450,000 project.

Powell said it’s been too long since the 2014 Comprehensive Plan that this project hasn’t been done.

“I feel like it’s time to move forward on this,” Powell said.

Sweeting said the $200,000 project was “easier to swallow” than the $450,000 chamber project.

Harwood said the council needed to allow the chamber to make their new proposal and asked fellow council members “push pause” themselves.

Later, Harwood said the motion to approve was “inconsiderate” to the chamber and Economic Development Commission, saying was confused by the hastiness of Pate’s proposal, which was first presented in January.

“I haven’t made up my mind on this year,” Harwood said.” If we’ve taken this much time, why can’t we go another month or two or three or six?”

Yount said that in a recent meeting with the chamber, they had made a concession in the cost of their proposal and wanted to see their new proposal.

Matheson said he’s met with the chamber for multiple months and felt like the decision was not hasty and said he was listening to people talking to him and said Pate’s proposal got the town the most bang for their buck.

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