Why Can’t Blowing Rock Become A 12-Month Town?

Why Can’t Blowing Rock Become A 12-Month Town?
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Left to right, Hunt Broyhill, Scott McIntosh, Rob Garrett served as panelists leading the discussion.

By David Rogers. June 22, 2017. BLOWING ROCK, NC — Tuesday night’s “Residential Real Estate” forum hosted by the Blowing Rock Civic Association at the Blowing Rock Art & History Museum held only a few surprises for the estimated 50 people in attendance, but a revelation or two may have served as reality checks for at least a few in the audience.

That Blowing Rock needs to become a “12-Month town” for the sake of its own economic health is not a new revelation. Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce leaders have been promoting that concept for several years.  By staging special event weekends such as Winterfest, Savor Blowing Rock and other special events, Blowing Rock’s business leaders have tried to get more heads in beds and seats filled at the dining room tables of the area’s restaurants — in the off-season.  Efforts have been made, some even underway or currently contemplated, to make the downtown village just that much more attractive for resident and visitor alike. The on-going Laurel Lane and Gateway projects come immediately to mind.

Of course there are many who protest change. Some were born and raised in the area and quite content with the way things are, having adapted their respective lifestyles to the “boom” and “bust” seasonality of the local economy. Others of relative affluence found Blowing Rock years ago, fell in love with its rustic charm and see no reason to change it. And certainly they don’t want others to find it.

Lights seemed to come on in the eyes and ears of many in the audience.

At least some in this last category of people who are resistant to change were in Tuesday evening’s audience, as well as others with differing viewpoints.  They heard an interesting panel of area real estate professionals report on the health of the local housing market compared to itself, historically.  There were also hints  of how robust — or not — Blowing Rock’s residential market is compared to other regions in North Carolina.

Each attendee received a folder with the various charts and graphs.

Scott McIntosh of Blowing Rock Investment Properties and Rob Garrett of Premier Sotheby’s International collaborated on reporting the numbers and what they seem to indicate: that Blowing Rock’s market is recovering from the 2008 collapse, but very slowly.

McIntosh broke down by price range where most of the residential sales are occurring, as well as where they are not.  The biggest gains seem to be coming at the lower end and the very high end ($1 million, $2 million and higher), while inventory remains fairly high in the middle and turnover has been sluggish, at best.

Compared to Charlotte, for example, where houses are on the market for an average of 36 days, homes within the Blowing Rock town limits are on the market for more than 250 days, on average.

Panelist Hunt Broyhill, the developer of the Chestnut Hill condominium project on the site of the now torn down hospital, may well be sitting in the proverbial catbird’s seat. McIntosh and Garrett seemed to indicate because those residences will be in one of the popular price ranges, will feature fabulous views, and will be new construction, so very attractive to prospective buyers.

Broyhill officially closed on the remediated property the last week of May and was all smiles in describing the launch of marketing plans. Earlier this week, Premier Sotheby’s was identified as the exclusive listing agent, with Ashley Hutchens taking the lead in working with Broyhill.

In the audience was seasonal resident Pat Riley, the CEO of one of Charlotte’s leading real estate agencies, Allen Tate. He not only provided insight on what was happening in the Charlotte market, but also noted that one of the prevailing trends among buyers is to buy brand new or recently renovated homes that had a new feel.

A good size crowd filled the Community Room at Blowing Rock Art & History Museum

“But,” he said, “there aren’t that many people doing the renovation work themselves and try finding a construction contractor to do the work for you!  In the Charlotte market, there are half as many contractors in the marketplace. Meanwhile, the population is growing every year, significantly, so the demand for housing is very high. But most buyers want new.  There is as much as a 30+% price premium for a new house vs. the same house that is one year old in the same development.”

Asked for his view of why the Blowing Rock market is lagging, Riley observed, “For me it is pretty simple. Blowing Rock needs to become a 12-month town.  When I come up here in the winter, there are fewer things to do and fewer places to go. Stores close up for the winter season. Cashiers and Highlands are more attractive as winter destinations because I can find the lodging that I want and it is within walking distance of restaurants and shops.”

Lights seemed to come on in the eyes and ears of many in the audience. In speaking with some of the attendees afterwards, there was an appreciation for the businesses that stay open all year long and “survive” during the slow season. A few indicated that they were rethinking their “protectionist” attitudes toward economic development in Blowing Rock because they now understand how a healthy business environment relates to their single biggest investment, their homes.

Without market demand, those stores and restaurants are just short-term window dressing, doomed to fail.

The trick, of course, is becoming a 12-month town while preserving the character and charm that make Blowing Rock unique.

There are those who disagree, but we suggest that the only way Blowing Rock can become the sort of 12-month town that Riley describes is by nurturing an entrepreneurial culture that results in new, year-’round businesses. That means new jobs where people are living and working in the area 12 months out of the year, because those are the people who will primarily create demand for stores and restaurants to stay open or extend their hours.

George Wilcox, President of Blowing Rock Civic Association, served as emcee of the forum on residential real estate.

In our view, it CANNOT be achieved by just keeping current or even new stores and restaurants open and announcing to the world that Blowing Rock is now a 12-month town.  Without market demand, those stores and restaurants are just short-term window dressing doomed to fail, financially.

The Chamber of Commerce’s efforts to stage special events (i.e. Winterfest, Savor Blowing Rock) in the off- or shoulder-seasons are helping create activity on those special weekends, but that model is unsustainable for every day of the off-season or even every weekend because they are volunteer-dependent in their execution.  There are only so many volunteers and the members of the Chamber staff are stretched pretty thin during those special events.

No, a true economic renaissance will not occur unless there are year-around employers, whether they be single-person Internet businesses such as manufacturers’ representatives and business consultants or technology-driven firms that have access to faster broadband.  Maybe it is a digital publisher. Maybe it is an investment manager who wants to live and work in the mountains with ready access to outdoor recreation.  Maybe it is another craft brewery taking advantage of pure mountain spring water.  Really, it is anyone that does business 12 months out of the year — and preferably businesses whose sources of revenue derive from outside the local market.

Blowing Rock has been, is, and very likely will continue to be a popular tourist and even retirement destination.  As a 12-month town, however, it is going backwards, with perhaps the indicator being the declining school enrollment.  As the many retailers who close up shop in the off-season well know, tourism only gets you so far. There are still four or five other months where, right now, the cupboards are mostly bare.

Now we can connect the dots. It is not just about fatter wallets year ’round for the merchants and shopkeepers. A healthy local economy is also important for creating the kind of market demand that benefits property values.

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