Recently Jackson County commissioners have been moving forward on a proposal to loan the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad $700,000 to aid in construction of a turn-table as well as to fully restore a steam locomotive. On July 4th, commissioners received a letter from Great Smoky Mountains Railroad owner and CEO Allen Harper. In the letter, Mr. Harper made it abundantly clear that the Railroad would not continue pursuing options to return train service to Jackson County at this time. Mr. Harper had this to say in the letter; “At this time we will postpone moving forward to finalize an agreement with Jackson County as we focus on the renovation and Bryson City turntable installation.” However, in his letter, Mr. Harper made it very clear that the return of Railroad service to Jackson County is not out of question for the future. Mr. Harper said, “We are considering our partnership with Swain County as a Phase one project and remain open to the concept of implementing the steam expansion into Dillsboro as a phase two at a later date.” In spite of great efforts on the part of County commissioners and other county leaders it does not look like steam locomotive service will return any time soon.
The Jackson County Commissioners released the following response:
From: Jackson County Board of Commissioners
Date: July 5, 2013
We received the attached letter from Mr. Allen Harper, Owner and CEO, of the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad. We applaud the efforts of GSMR to rebuild the Steam Engine and concur with Mr. Harper that it would be in their best interest to devote their time and attention to Phase One of this project involving the engine restoration and construction of a turntable in Bryson City. We are also most appreciative of Swain County’s interest in partnering with Jackson County for steam engine activity between Bryson City and Dillsboro. We will follow the progress and success of this project and look forward to continuing our conversations with GSMR. The GSMR is an economic engine to western North Carolina and we will continue to work with GSMR to strengthen our partnership. Finally, we remain cautiously optimistic that the grant application for the construction of a turntable in Dillsboro will receive favorable consideration from the Appalachian Regional Commission.
Jackson County has a structure/procedure in place for providing economic development loans/incentives to businesses in Jackson County and it was successfully utilized in the loans to WRGC, Jackson Paper, and Webster Enterprises. In each of these situations, a formal application, pertinent financial information, and adequate collateral was provided to secure the transaction. This same model can work for an economic partnership with GSMR.
Our immediate attention now shifts to other opportunities for improving the business community in Dillsboro. We anticipate Duke Energy will offer the river property on the south side of the Tuckasegee for development of a park/recreation area in the near future. If the Town of Dillsboro decides to forego the gift then it is our understanding that it will be offered to Jackson County. We would welcome the opportunity to accept this property and develop a park/recreation area in Dillsboro. This could be the beginning of increased river activities which could positively impact the business environment of Dillsboro and complement the future train activity. We will also encourage our Jackson County TDA to look closely at their marketing efforts in this area since the hotel rooms in the Dillsboro area generate a significant portion of the funds they receive.