Site chosen for new entertainment venue

A location has been chosen for the Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center: Chuck Snyder’s farm.

Snyder signed an offer with the Brown County Convention and Visitors Commission on June 15 to buy 13.75 acres next to the Salt Creek Plaza shopping area, near where the cows graze, behind Brown County Health and Living Community and the Salt Creek Trail.

The purchase price is $2 million, said Doug Harden, the principal designer of the proposed building.

Even though paperwork to make the purchase has been signed, nothing has been finalized and no money has changed hands. The closing on the sale cannot happen until the project is approved by all governmental entities that will be involved, said Barry Herring, a member of the CVC.

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The CVC is a group of appointed volunteers who manage the innkeeper’s tax revenue.

For months, members of the CVC, the Brown Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) and select public officials have been informally discussing building a 2,000-seat performing arts center in Brown County.

The organizers’ vision is for the innkeeper’s tax to help make it happen.

The projected price of building it — including buying the land but not operating it — is $10.2 million, to be paid off over 30 years.

Since 1986, Brown County visitors have paid that 5-percent tax on their room and cabin rentals. For the past six to eight years, 95 percent of that tax revenue has been going to the CVB. The amount the tax is expected to bring in for 2017 is $852,671, said Jane Ellis, CVB executive director.

The plan is to take out a bond and divert $560,000 of the innkeeper’s tax to make the payment the first year. Then, the vision is for that annual payment to be covered by cash flow.

The next step for the project was to be a joint CVC and CVB board meeting at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, June 20 at the Brown County Inn.

Later that evening, a presentation about the project was planned at the Brown County Playhouse, starting at 7 p.m.

For this plan to work, the CVB board would first have to vote to amend its agreement with the CVC, allowing some of its innkeeper’s tax revenue to go toward the bond payment.

The center will not be built with any property tax money, organizers said.

A three-person redevelopment authority would have to be appointed by the county commissioners to lease the revenue from the innkeeper’s tax to create the bond, Herring said.

If the CVB board votes to approve the change in its agreement, the project will go before the Brown County Redevelopment Commission, the Brown County Council, the Brown County Commissioners and the Area Plan Commission, Herring said.

“One disapproval on one section stops us dead in the water. We need all the boards to say ‘yes’ to get this done,” Herring said.

If the CVB board approves the change to their level of tax revenue receipts, Snyder will be given a $10,000 earnest money check that will come from a reserve fund of innkeeper’s tax.

Plans are underway to conduct environmental testing on the proposed location, which would also be paid out of the reserve fund.

Under the offer to purchase, the group has 180 days to get necessary approvals.

“We hope to shorten that considerably if at all possible, simply because I’d love to be setting footers before freeze sets in,” Harden said.

Stars align

Since the Little Nashville Opry burned at the hands of an arsonist in September 2009, Harden said he has been trying to find a way to rebuild it.

He looked at multiple sites through the years, including the former Long Mountain Ski Resort property and the former Ski World property, both on State Road 46 West.

The vision was to be near State Road 46 for traffic and ease of access, and to avoid floodplain, Harden said. “That kind of narrowed our search down a little bit.”

“From Day One, Snyder Farm has always been my dream site, because it’s within walking distance from major hotels in town. And now, with the Salt Creek Trail, we envision a lot of people coming to the shows, using the trail to walk back and forth,” Harden said.

Since a portion of the bond will be paid with a county tax, the venue had to be built on county property, Harden said. Even though its neighbors, including McDonald’s and the Salt Creek Inn, are in town, Snyder Farm is not, Harden said.

Nine years ago, Harden approached Snyder about using his farm as a location for a new music venue and Snyder said he wasn’t interested at that time.

Then a couple of months ago, Snyder stopped into Harden’s office.

“I asked him again, and told him I was serious this time, and within 10 minutes we were talking about the land behind the nursing home. I was flabbergasted and shocked that he would even consider it, much less offer that piece of property,” Harden said.

Harden said he originally had asked about land closer to State Road 46 East.

“I never thought he’d ever dream of selling that, because that’s his working farm (the property behind the nursing home),” Harden said.

“His comment was, ‘I don’t want it that close to my house’ — typical Brown County response, which is fine.”

Traffic jams?

Harden said he knows there will be traffic backups on performance days, putting this venue where it’s planned to be.“I am not going to lie to anybody that we’re never going to have another traffic jam, but my feeling was, we used to wear those as a badge of honor back in the day that people wanted to be here,” he said.

Preliminary discussions are ongoing with Nashville leaders about using Hawthorne Drive to get to the venue. A way would have to be found around the town police station, which sits at the dead-end of Hawthorne.

The town was already planning to widen the junction of Hawthorne Drive and the highway to three lanes, to have a turn lane.

“Our dream is to have that a three-lane all the way back, where, like, before show, it’s a two-lane in and one-lane out, and just the opposite after the show,” Harden said.

That idea has not been presented formally to the town council.

The offer to purchase also included a 50-foot strip off Snyder’s property that goes to the east of Salt Creek Plaza, which could be used to build a new county road. The current “pet name” for it is Maple Leaf Boulevard. That would give the venue two entrances and exits if Hawthorne Drive also could be used, Harden said.

Currently, the Indiana Department of Transportation doesn’t want to put an additional stoplight where that new road would intersect the highway, because it’s so close to the stoplight at Hawthorne Drive, Harden said.

“(The INDOT representative’s) comment was, ‘I am not saying no, but … right now, let’s plan on doing a right-in and right-out only on this new street,’” Harden said.

Harden said the organizers expect Nashville Police officers will have to be used to help direct traffic after shows — much like county officers did for the Little Nashville Opry on State Road 46 West.

A large parking area also is part of the plan. The Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center will have enough parking for 550 cars to comply with local zoning ordinances, Harden said.

“We’re also going to take advantage of the fact that we really feel like you can access this by foot from all the major hotels in town,” he said.

Business opportunities also could open up to help shuttle visitors, such as a bicycle rickshaw that could run on the Salt Creek Trail, Harden said.

“I feel like the location … is the perfect location that allows a lot of people to park their cars in town,” Harden said.

“You could not be any closer to Nashville, being in the county, than Chuck’s property,” Herring said.

“It’s a win, win, win,” he said. “We’re very happy. I just don’t think we could have picked a better site. … It’s going to make the project.”

Trail extension?

There is no provision in this purchase agreement to extend the Salt Creek Trail any further across the Snyders’ property than the land they’re offering to the county for the performance venue, said Doug Harden, who helped make this deal happen.

The eventual plan for the trail is to connect Brown County State Park with downtown Nashville. Millions in state funding and donations are in place to build trail extensions, but not all landowners in the proposed path have agreed to let the trail cross their land. The Snyders have been one of those pairs of owners.

If you go

WHAT: Public presentation about the Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center

WHEN: Tuesday, June 20; doors open at 6:30 p.m., meeting starts at 7 p.m.

WHERE: Brown County Playhouse on South Van Buren Street

CAN’T MAKE IT? Read the story in next week’s paper and on bcdemocrat.com.

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Suzannah Couch grew up in Brown County, reading the Brown County Democrat. A 2013 Franklin College graduate, she covers business, cops/courts, education and arts/entertainment.