Staying afloat amidst COVID restrictions, has meant thinking outside-the-box for nonprofits across Highlands and Cashiers.
Many have offered “virtual” programming which while a nice gesture, hasn’t done anything to bolster the bottom line.
At June’s Town Board meeting on June 18, commissioners heard requests and made decisions to help several nonprofits navigate town rules – allowing ticketed events in the Kelsey-Hutchinson Founders Park — and state restrictions – as to crowd size – so they can hopefully make a little money in this “unusual year.
Kelsey-Hutchinson Founders Park is one of the few venues in Highlands where groups can safely host events while adhering to state restrictions to minimize the spread of COVID-19.
Highlands Festivals, Inc.
First up was David Bock with Highlands Festivals, Inc., who outlined the organization’s plans for its annual Highlands Food & Wine Festival to be held Thursday-Saturday, Nov.12 -14.
Bock said this year the festival will be a music festival, much like the one planned for Mother’s Day weekend which was canceled due to COVID restrictions.
Bock requested permission to have a ticketed event in K-H Founders Park and said they hope to sell 1,000 tickets for afternoon concerts each day, Friday and Saturday, and are hoping area restaurants will offer wine dinners and seminars the evenings Thursday-Saturday.
These will be open-air events in the park featuring music instead of food and wine. There won’t be any open vendors or tastings and packaged foods and beverages will be available.
“We want permission so we can start planning, but with the complete understanding that the town and governor may not allow us to have the event because we don’t know where we will be regarding COVID,” said Bock. “If the governor says we can’t have these kind of gatherings, we will refund everyone’s money.”
Bock said selling 1,000 tickets would enable them to break even and maintain the required social distancing.
“We have to have that number of tickets to cover the cost of the talent, security and to set-up the event,” he said.
The entire park will be used, including the skate rink area which is where food will be disbursed. A large stage and sound system will be set up at the 4th Street entrance to the park.
Bock said they won’t know until October if the event can take place.
“It’s a big unknown right now. We are just trying to get people in place, get talent hired get planning going in hopes that we can do it knowing very well that this might not happen,” he said.
Commissioners voted 4-1 with Commissioner Marc Hehn voting no to give conditional approval for planning purposes which will be based on government officials and COVID restrictions.
The Performing Arts Center
The Performing Arts Center Director Mary Adair Trumbly also requested permission to use the park for ticketed events – one the Sunday of Labor Day weekend – Sept. 6 and one Sunday Sept. 27.
“This is a really unusual once-in-a-lifetime request — to use the park for two ticketed events and one on a holiday weekend which I realize is not typically allowed,” she said.
She said they have reformulated the PAC auditorium to seat 60 people with social distancing but that only gives her one-third of an audience – based on typically selling 220 tickets.
“If the governor says we can have 30% capacity moving into phase 3 we will do that, but a 30% audience isn’t going to get us any profit so we would very much like to use the park for the two Sundays – these regularly scheduled concerts,” said Trumbly. “I view it as an opportunity to glean a little profit. We have been closed since March and our bottom line is really suffering.”
She said PAC usually sells 220 tickets for these two particular concerts but envisions selling 400-500 if she can use the park. One concert is a Neil Diamond tribute and the other is a Fleetwood Mac tribute and both groups do outdoor concerts all the time, she said.
Though the Town doesn’t typically allow ticketed events in the park or events at all on holiday weekends, commissioners agreed this year was an exception.
“I don’t have any problem with a concert on Labor Day weekend simply because this is an unusual year,” said Commissioner Patterson. “We can go back to not allowing this later. And depending on where we are with the pandemic and how we can limit the number of people and do social distancing depending on situation at the time, I’m OK with this.”
Trumbly said if she can make money on these two concerts it would be great because she is going to lose money on everything else put on in the PAC due to the 30% rule.
Again, the vote was 4-1 with Commissioner Hehn voting no.
Village Square Art Show
Next up was the Village Square Art Show scheduled for Friday and Saturday, Aug. 28 and 29.
Tucker Chambers discussed the plans that have been made to adhere to the town’s and the governor’s rules as they stand now and into Phase 3.
The layout of the park for the event has been designed for social distancing – 16 sq. ft. around each 3-sided tent for social distancing – with a 12-foot lane between rows of tents, as per the fire marshal.
He anticipates 70-80 tents and 200-300 people flowing in and out.
Face masks will be required, so upon entrance participants will be offered face masks and shields if they don’t have any and artists will have hand-sanitizer for those who visit their tents.
Commissioner Patterson suggested a one-way traffic flow, so people aren’t passing each other.
Commissioners voted to allow the show contingent upon the Rec Committee recommendation as to traffice flow and depending on the status of the pandemic in Highlands and Macon County.
Twilight 5K Run
The Twilight 5K Run is planned for August 15 with a backup date of the Saturday after Thanksgiving if COVID restrictions curtail plans.
Commissioner John Dotson expressed concern with the clustering of runners in the beginning of the race so suggested a staggered start – even suggesting planning it for the November date.
“It starts out tight and opens up later, but at the starting gun it’s tight. I would prefer moving it to the November date or a staggered start in August 15 without that mass of people at one time,” he said.
Commissioners agree to allow the race contingent upon the Rec Park Committee’s recommendation with a 4-1 vote with Commissioner Hehn voting no.
Farmer’s Market & Saturday Music on Pine
The Farmers Market and Saturday Music on Pine are two events that are on the calendar through October.
The town disallowed activities like the Farmer’s Market in the K-H Founders Park with the COVID outbreak, but the governor considered the markets an essential business, so they have been allowed to be open across the state.
Commissioner Dotson said Highlands should allow the market because it’s been dictated by Raleigh.
“This is a low-density event, so I don’t have a problem with picking up the ball and running with that,” he said.
However, Commissioner Patterson said she wants to go with what is best for Highlands so she suggested vendors and participants be required to wear masks.
“Raleigh is playing politics with my hometown. So, we are going to do what is good in Highlands. We need to require masks for these events where people are close together.
“We want them to be able to sell, but I am not going to compromise people’s safety. People have the right to come or not to come, but I am trying to make it as safe as possible,” she said.
But Commissioner Dotson noted that retail businesses are up and running so he didn’t see why the Farmer’s Market should be more stringent.
“Retailers make their own decisions. Some require masks and some don’t. But this is our venue, so it’s up to us as to what we allow or not; we make the rules,” said Patterson.
So, as soon as they are ready, the Farmer’s Market can open Saturdays 8 a.m. to noon as long as masks are required of vendors and participants and people adhere to social distancing. Whoever is in charge of the market will be responsible for making people who come in wear masks and if there is a problem, the police can be called.
Saturday Music in the Park is scheduled for each Saturday at 6p through October. Obviously, with the outside limit at 25 for groups, the event has been on hold.
However, for July 4th there will be a live-streaming concert with the Wobblers “to help bring a celebratory but safe atmosphere in Highlands,” said Kaye McHan, president of the Chamber of Commerce.
Also, set for July 4th will be musicians in the bed of a pickup truck tooling around town to lend a festive air.
Concerts will start up with restrictions as soon as the outside gathering limit is increased.
Highlands Rec Park Pool
Since pools were allowed to open with restrictions in Phase 2, Highlands commissioners agreed to loosen restrictions at the pool, which during Phase 2 only allowed adults to lap swim from 6a to noon Monday through Friday.
According to Rec Park Director Lester Norris, pools are already open elsewhere and he encouraged Highlands to follow suit.
So, starting Saturday, June 27 the pool will be open to everyone, daily but with restrictions.
Changing rooms and showers will be off limits, but the bathrooms will be open. Deck furniture will be available and will be decontaminated as people leave.
With three parts per million of chlorine in the pool water, Commissioner Brian Stiehler said the solution “will kill just about anything.”
Commissioners agreed that people will basically be sanitized when they get out of the pool so sitting on deck furniture shouldn’t be a problem. For those who don’t swim, their furniture will be sanitized once they leave. The bathrooms will be sanitized every 30 minutes.
Norris said according to the State and Macon County Health Dept. COVID can’t be transmitted in the pool itself.
Commissioners voted 4-1 to open the pool full bore. Commissioner Hehn voted no.
Article by Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper
Photos by Brian O’Shea