December 9, 2021
Dear Blowing Rock Homeowners,
The Blowing Rock Tourism Development Authority engaged Roger Brooks of Roger Brooks International and Destination Development Association to prepare a Sustainable Tourism Management Plan for Blowing Rock. You can learn about Roger Brooks and Destination Design Association at https://www.rogerbrooksinternational.com/
Roger Brooks returned to Blowing Rock on December 8th to present a draft of Blowing Rock’s Sustainable Tourism Management Plan to the board of the Tourism Development Authority and the public. His public presentation can be viewed on the Town’s website at https://www.townofblowingrocknc.gov/residents/meetings A complete report will be published and made available to the community.
The main question for Roger was “What can be done in Blowing Rock to mitigate the effects that being an extremely popular visitor destination has on the quality of life for local residents, particularly during the peak summer and fall months?
The bottom line: Blowing rock does not suffer from overtourism EXCEPT when it comes to the infrastructure to support local residents, workers and visitors. It comes down to one primary issue: a SEVERE LACK OF PARKING, which I think of as CONGESTION.
Roger points out that we have a significant number of day visitors that drive into Downtown for the day from our 50 mile radius market or from short-term rental properties outside of Downtown that really is the cause our congestion together with parking for our 400 employees. During the month of October 2021, there were 30,000 people accessing our two bathrooms in Memorial Park. The people are here, but they have no where to park and often drive around looking for a space to park for the first 30 minutes to an hour. Basically, they are “lost” and looking for somewhere to park.
I know from serving on the TDA board that the marketing program primarily focuses on attracting overnight visitors, but our natural beauty, outdoor activities, history, proximity to the Parkway and Boone, easy drive into town on Hwy 321, our quaint Downtown, and our inviting Downtown Park attract people for the day.
A survey with almost 500 respondents was conducted. The demographics of the responders are as expected: Residents – 80% – 39% full-time and 41% part-time.
Part-time Residents – 6 to 9 months – 15%, 9 to 12 months – 22%
Age – 45 to 65 – 43%, 65 or older – 43%, 30 to 44 – 12%.
The overall recommendations are designed to reorient Downtown to focus on pedestrians, not cars in order to improve the experience and manage congestion and retain the authenticity of our unique historical downtown.
The Vision is designed to focus a first-time visitor who is driving on the highway to realize that “You have Arrived” in Blowing Rock at the intersection of Sunset Drive and Valley Boulevard with parking nearby allowing visitors to park and walk into Downtown or take a shuttle to Main Street.
One funny observation is our confused branding of Hwy 321. You come into town from the south on the “Lenoir or Blowing Rock Turnpike” into the stretch of road called “321”, “By-Pass” or “Valley Boulevard”. Given our concerns about speeding and noise, a re-branding of the name and focus on a Sunset Gateway will help explain to drivers that “You have Arrived” into Blowing Rock which will re-enforce that we are a destination, not a cross-roads.
Key action steps from the 24 recommendations are to:
- Set up a Destination Team that includes all stakeholders to provide input to the Town Council,
- Prepare a Downtown Development Plan
- Implement paid parking in Downtown
- Encourage private-public partnerships to add paid parking lots in Downtown
- Remove about 85 parking spaces from both sides of Main Street,
- Extend sidewalks on both sides of Main Street with improved landscaping to allow for more outdoor dining, less pedestrian crowding and control of jay-walking.
- Eliminate mandatory parking requirements for retail and restaurants uses and building permits on Main Street and Sunset Drive that would be covered by the enhance parking system. To clarify, I would add that parking requirements for hotels and short-term rental units must be met to provide on-site parking in all of the business districts from Downtown to Valley Boulevard.
- Build a architecturally appropriate parking deck with 600 spaces on Valley Boulevard to provide reduced paid parking rates for our workforce of about 400 employees and day visitors,
- Add a dedicated shuttle from the parking garage to Downtown,
- Enhance the intersection and crosswalks at Sunset and Valley Boulevard to calm traffic and create presence to focus the gateway to Downtown at Sunset Drive,
- Implement a standard and attractive way-finding plan,
- Move overhead utilities underground on Main Street from 221 to BRAHM,
- Change the land use code for West Main Street to enhance green space and minimize concrete
- Add entertainment venues to the park, and
- Encourage activities and retail stores to remain open after 6 pm to encourage overnight stays rather than day visits.
The overall cost is substantial, but the parking and shuttle solution is the biggest investment that should be self-funded with parking revenues. Funding sources, other than parking revenue, to implement the plan will need to be determined including incremental funding from business owners. Hopefully, we will be able to capture some of the Federal infrastructure funding.
Next year is critical. The Town Council and community will need to focus in 2022 on developing the plans for Downtown and Valley Boulevard that will implement these recommendations as the Town replaces the Water & Sewer system from North to South Main Street in 2023 or 2024.
Fortunately, we do not have to pay the $4.8M cost from Town funds since our local legislative delegation secured the funding in the recently approved state budget. This will relieve the pressure on our future W&S rates that would have been required to fund the debt service.