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Tourism board weakens Playhouse support statement

The body responsible for promoting tourism in Henderson County adopted a watered-down statement of support for the Flat Rock Playhouse on Tuesday after rejecting a monetary grant.

The Tourism Development Authority refused to go along a suggestion by board member Bo Ferguson, the Hendersonville city manager, to adopt a statement of support urging the public to support the beleaguered organization through donations and ticket purchases. Instead, the board adopted a truncated statement urging the public to continue to support the theater with no mention of donations or ticket sales.
Ferguson's request on behalf of the Playhouse came after the board had shot down a proposal to give the Playhouse a grant now, Chairman David Nicholson mentioned $25,000 or $50,000, in exchange for a ticket-sharing promotion for hotels next year.
Board members said they weren't convinced that the Playhouse had a viable business plan that merited the TDA's support.
"I have all the same questions that I think all you have expressed about the Flat Rock Playhouse and how they got here and where they may be going," Ferguson said, "but I feel like someone out there has to stand up and say, for all of its faults, this is an asset that I think we are better off with than without.
"And by making that statement I'm not endorsing throwing money at them, I'm not endorsing the occupancy tax proposal, those are all discussions we need to have. I would encourage all of us to be careful about the tone that we strike when we talk about it because if Flat Rock Playhouse is gone in two months I think the one thing we can all agree, regardless of the perhaps very fair finger pointing that we could do, it's still gone, and there is an empty building down there that's not bringing in a single tourist and there's an empty building up here that's not bringing in a single tourist."
The city has a stake in the Playhouse Downtown. The council contributed $300,000 toward the renovation of the space in the 100 block of North Main Street for the downtown theater. The Playhouse presence there has drawn hundreds of tourists and local patrons downtown, city council members say.
Ferguson urged the TDA to look past blame while the Playhouse needs cash to survive.
"I think there's so much community discussion that's focused on who messed up and holding them accountable, and I think that's a fair conversation, but as the TDA I don't think we should lose focus on what role can we play in helping them make it," he said. "I don't know how many heads in beds they're driving, it may be much less than they claim. If they're gone I can't see that that is helping any part of our tourism industry."
No one rose to support that view. Other board members said that while the Playhouse may be an asset, it has not shown a marketing plan or business plan to inspire confidence that it will recover.
"It used to run like clockwork and they have run off, or something happened, to key people that we all used to know in the community," said Phyllis Rogers.
Kim Smith of Highland Lake Inn added, "I think part of the public opinion and part of the finger pointing are part of the discussions about how we got here. But another big aspect of this is a plan going forward to feel confident to support them in whatever they do, and they've not given anything to support that confidence."

The board directed Nicholson to communicate to the Playhouse that it was interested in hearing more about its plans for the 2013 season, and might look at the ticket promotion idea later. The county Board of Commissioners has asked the Tourism Development Authority to examine the proposed 1-cent occupancy tax for the Playhouse and come back with a recommendation. The tax, which would raise about $225,000 a year, was authorized by the Legislature last June as an option that the Board of Commissioners would have to OK.