Dare tourism board deep sixes carnival proposal

By on December 15, 2011

Dare County’s Tourism Board turned down a bid for a summer carnival in Nags Head after hearing concerns from neighboring businesses about limited parking, lack of restrooms and unfair competition.

The original proposal by Boardwalk Attractions was to set up a nightly carnival at the soundfront Windmill Point site from mid-June to mid-August.

When neighboring businesses raised their concerns, the Windmill Point Committee, made up of members of the tourism board and Nags Head officials, recommended a compromise — a carnival the first three weeks of June before the height of the tourist season.

That idea was rejected by the full tourism board on Thursday.

The Windmill Point site on the southern end of U.S. 158 near Whalebone Junction is jointly owned by Nags Head and the county tourism authority.

Plans are for a convention center and possibly a hotel in coming years. But much discussion has revolved around making good use of the vacant site in the meantime.

A weeklong carnival run by Boardwalk Attractions was part of Nags Head’s 50th anniversary celebration. It was well attended and widely praised.

But since the idea of a longer carnival this summer surfaced, businesses in the area have told the Windmill Point Committee and the tourism board that things did not go all that smoothly for them during the 50th birthday celebration

“We had two major problems with the carnival which I believe go hand in hand,” Bryan Wilson, owner of Miller’s Waterfront Restaurant, wrote in a letter distributed at Thursday’s tourism board meeting. “Because we are adjacent to the Windmill Point property, many people attending the carnival parked in our lot, making our restaurant appear busier than it really was, deterring customers who didn’t want to wait, and also reducing parking spaces for our actual customers.

“In addition to the parking situation, we felt that the carnival rides themselves, being so large and lit up like Christmas, were obstructing our actual buliding, causing us to loose potential ‘drive by business’ ”

Several members of the tourism board concurred with Wilson’s assessment that “an out-of-town company being allowed to come and set up shop during our busiest time of year, then packing up and taking all of that revenue with them is simply unfair.”

Sterling Webster, a member of the Windmill Point Committee and chairman of the tourism board, said he believed the carnival would benefit businesses in the long run by bringing traffic into the area.

Most of the seven neighboring businesses owners who recently met with the Windmill Point Committee seemed amenable to a shorter schedule earlier in the year, Webster said. But at least one, Evelyn Munden of Wordwide Golf Associates, which operates Jurassic Putt, opposed a carnival at any time.

Board member Jamie Daniels, the mayor of Manteo, argued that every dollar spent at a carnival would be one less for other attractions and businesses, including those on Roanoke Island.

Other board members said that the out-of-town carnival company would gain an unfair marketing advantage through the tourism bureau in what would amount to a public-private partnership.

“It’s not a level playing field if we go in there and we promote it,” said Paul Charron, who represents the Dare County Restaurant Association in the tourism board.

A summer carnival would also have required the approval of the the Nags Head Board of Commissioners, permits and at least one ordinance change allowing a longer event.

Webster expressed concerns that the board would be seen as believing no events should take place at the site.

But board members seemed to concur that they would still favor one- or two-night events such as weekend concerts.

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