Gatlinburg approves $3.7 million in Arrowmont funding

Sep. 19, 2013 @ 11:56 PM

The Gatlinburg County Commission got a round of applause from supporters of Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts Tuesday when it tentatively approved a $3.7-million bond issue to help keep the school at its downtown location.

The city has taken part in negotiations to help keep the historic school downtown. The property where it sits is owned by Pi Beta Phi Fraternity for Women, but the group is looking to sell it to developer Bob Bentz.

Bentz has different plans for the property, but Arrowmont and its supporters have worked to keep the land downtown. Those three groups, along with the city and county government, have agreed to mediation to see if they can reach an agreement that would allow at least some parts of Arromwmont to remain downtown.

The commission’s agreement to possibly provide $3.7- million in bond funds is part of that process. It won’t spend the money unless the entire deal moves forward, but it represents a new commitment by the city.

Bill May, executive director of Arrowmont, said Wednesday that the vote was an encouraging step.

“Obviously along with all the Arrowmont supporters I was very pleased with the unanimous vote and I think it speaks to the appreciation of heritage of our past and also shows ... the leadership of Gatlinburg has a positive vision for the future.”

The parties in the mediation are still under a confidentiality agreement that prevents them from talking about other details of the proposed agreement; officials have said they plan to meet again in January.

In the meantime, Arrowmont is raising money to help pay its own share of a possible buyout for the land, but May did say it has the potential to leave Arrowmont in control of its own destiny in the future.

“I am encouraged and I’m optimistic there are enough people in this region and around the country who have a respect and appreciation for what we’ve done and what we’re capable of doing,” he said.

jfarrell@themountainpress.com