Tuesday, March 30, 2010

More hard times for (the park formerly known as) Hard Rock Park

Despite not technically being in North Carolina, we have followed the ups and downs (mostly downs) of the Myrtle Beach-based Hard Rock Park/Freestyle Park -- for no other reason than we know a number of North Carolinians vacation in the "Redneck Riviera."

Well, the park may not open anytime soon.

"An attorney representing Freestyle Amusement Park on the South Carolina coast said Monday the operators of the park have no current plans to reopen this summer," says the Associated Press.

"There are currently no plans to reopen for 2010, however they are in negotiations still with several investors and that's subject to change if something were to happen with the investors," said attorney David Slough.

The financially troubled park in Myrtle Beach was to have reopened earlier this month. Last month, Freestyle closed its business offices and laid off about 30 workers. ...

Freestyle opened last Memorial Day weekend after buying Hard Rock Park out of bankruptcy and reworking some of the rides and themes.

The 55-acre Hard Rock opened in 2008, but closed after a single season. The $400 million park was the biggest single investment in South Carolina tourism.

Freestyle Amusement Park faces a Thursday deadline to pay off a $570,000 debt it inherited when it bought Hard Rock. ...

Monday, March 29, 2010

Quick hits: Duke back in Final Four, and the oldest shipwreck in N.C. found

Duke punches another Final Four ticket
"Duke senior guard Jon Scheyer fiddled absently Sunday evening with the loop he'd cut from the net at Reliant Stadium that represented a lifetime goal fulfilled," said Ken Tysiac.

"A baseball cap that proclaimed Duke regional champions sat on Scheyer's left knee as the last few reporters hung around the locker room. Scheyer and junior backcourt partner Nolan Smith had just shredded Baylor's zone defense, combining for 49 points to lift Duke to a 78-71 win in the NCAA tournament's South Regional final. ..."

Oh, and Duke's presence may have salvaged CBS' ratings.

Shipwreck may be oldest off N.C. coast

"Small waves lapped over Nathan Henry's rubber boots as the underwater archaeologist stood among the stubby hull timbers of what could be the oldest shipwreck on the North Carolina coast.

"It was low tide and the surf was receding in Corolla. A cold north wind penetrated even a hoodie pulled over a knit cap.

"Henry, a curator with the North Carolina Underwater Archaeology Branch, had come here Tuesday with Richard Lawrence, the agency director, to further document the 400-year-old wreck before it disappears," said the Virginian-Pilot.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hit the Indian Heritage Scenic Byway

From N.C. DOT. Never even knew this existed. Pretty cool. And a good idea for an area that could use a boost.

If you're looking for a quick getaway after being cooped up this winter, a trip on the Indian Heritage Trail Scenic Byway is the perfect adventure. The byway snakes through 18 miles of Richmond and Montgomery counties near the center of the state, but takes visitors much further – back to a time centuries ago when Native Americans were the only residents of North Carolina.

The byway begins at the intersection of Ellerbe (State Road 1441) and Millstone (S.R. 1452) roads just east of the town of Ellerbe in Richmond County. Travel 2.5 miles down Millstone Road to reach Ellerbe, which received its name from W.T. Ellerbe, a South Carolina plantation owner who established a recreational and health facility around what he believed to be healing mineral springs in the area.

In Ellerbe, turn right onto U.S. 220 North (Church Street) to follow the byway. For a quick side trip, continue straight across the intersection of Millstone and Church streets to reach the Rankin Museum of American Heritage, located two blocks down on the left. The museum boasts one of the largest American Indian collections in the state, featuring artifacts from North Carolina tribes as well as those from further reaches, including Amazon Indian and Eskimo items. Natural history exhibits, and an extensive fossil collection can also be found here. (Museum hours are 10-4 weekdays, closed Wednesday, 1-5 on Saturday and 2-5 on Sunday).

Traveling north on U.S. 220 from Ellerbe, motorists pass through North Carolina's famous peach-growing region. Leaving Ellerbe, travel one mile and turn left onto N.C. 73 North. A N.C. Department of Transportation rest area with picnic tables is located to the right. Just a half-mile down U.S. 220 from the intersection is the facility originally established by W.T. Ellerbe, today known as the Historic Ellerbe Springs Inn and Restaurant.

Continue 11.5 miles before turning right onto Indian Mound Road and crossing into Montgomery County. The Town Creek Indian Mound Historic Site – the only state historic site in North Carolina dedicated to Native American heritage – is 1.5 miles down the road on the right. This archaeological site was an important ceremonial center for the Creek Indians of the Pee Dee culture, some 300 to 400 years ago. Visitors can tour the reconstructed temples and see various exhibits. (Site hours are Tuesday-Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 1-5 p.m., closed Mondays).

The byway ends where Indian Mound Road intersects with N.C. 731, just east of Mount Gilead. Without stops, the drive is about 35 minutes.

For maps and descriptions of all 54 scenic byways in North Carolina, visit www.ncdot.gov/~scenic.

Monday, March 22, 2010

N.C. wines coming into their own

We've discussed before the historical popularity and success of North Carolina's wine industry. In fact, as Phil Kirk writes here, North Carolina's wine industry was the top one in the nation before Prohibition. (We could've used Homer and his bowling ball-speakeasy techniques.)

Well, our state's vineyards have made quite the comeback in recent years. So much so that it may not be long before N.C. wines are back in the top 5.

"North Carolina enjoys a number of 'firsts' in the wine and grape industry," writes Kirk, the spokesperson for the Yadkin Valley Winegrowers Association. "The first cultivated grape in the U.S. was discovered in 1524 in our state. Also the first commercial winery in the U.S. was opened in Halifax County in eastern North Carolina in 1835. Prohibition wiped out the wine industry in our state and we were slow to getting back in the business.

"The Duplin Winery, located off I-40 in southeastern North Carolina, was opened in 1972 and is the oldest, continuously operated winery and is also the largest in terms of annual wine production and sales in our state. ...

N.C. wineries are winning both national and international awards for excellence. On the "Today" show, food editor Phil Lempert proclaimed that the Napa Valley is out and doomed by global warming. He said, "North Carolina is poised to claim Napa's crown."

The state has twice been named as one of the top states for wine and culinary tourism. North Carolina ranks third in the nation as a wine-related travel destination. Wineries have tasting rooms and provide tours, as well as extensive gift shops.

The state's wine industry employs more than 6,000 people with a payroll surpassing $200 million. More than 1 million visitors are recorded at N.C. wineries and there is an economic impact approaching $1 billion annually. The Biltmore winery is the most-visited winery in the United States. ...

WCU exhibit focuses on Judaculla Rock

Western Carolina University has a new exhibit that focuses on the effort to preserve Judaculla Rock, an ancient petroglyph located in Jackson County’s Caney Fork community. The exhibit will be on display at Western Carolina University’s Mountain Heritage Center from March 26 through July 10.

North Carolina’s largest petroglyph and an important cultural site for the Cherokee people, Judaculla Rock is a soapstone boulder on which hundreds of mysterious symbols were carved. The rock is located at a 15-acre site that once was a prehistoric Native American settlement, soapstone quarry and sacred place, said Trevor Jones, curator at the Mountain Heritage Center.

(Image from JoshuaPWarren.com)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Oh, snap! Atlanta mayor throws down the gauntlet

Apparently, Kasim Reed, the mayor of Atlanta, has taken issue with those that suggest Charlotte -- not "Hotlanta" -- is the capital of the South.

"Reed conceded that Charlotte has made gains – especially in the realm of high-speed rail. In January, North Carolina’s commercial center received a $545 million slice of federal stimulus money for rail," writes the AJC's Jim Galloway.

“They had a good day,” the mayor said, according to my AJC colleague Eric Stirgus.

But laying braggadocio aside, Reed said Atlanta was, in fact, in danger falling behind Charlotte if the city and state don’t make strides on transportation, education, water and the arts.

Reed compared the situation to the early 1960s when Birmingham was the southern leader in commerce, but lost that title to Atlanta because of its attitude on civil rights. ...

Atlanta, the mayor noted, was more progressive. “Birmingham has never caught up since,” Reed said. ...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

ACC Hall of Champions to open next year

I'm piecing this together, but from what I can tell (from here and here) construction is set to begin soon on the ACC's Hall of Champions in Greensboro.

The building will be more than 8,000 square feet in size and will be a "tribute to the Atlantic Coast Conference, its coaches and athletes."

The facility will be adjacent to the Greensboro Coliseum Complex.

Quick hits: Panthers like ASU's Edwards, and Gov. Perdue hits Hollywood

Panthers keen on ASU's Edwards
"Appalachian State quarterback Armanti Edwards said Tuesday the Carolina Panthers seemed more interested in him than any of the NFL teams he's spoken with so far. But as much as he thinks they like him, he's not sure what they want to do with him," said Darrin Gant.

"Such is the problem with the celebrated Mountaineers passer, and the reason he was catching punts and running receiver drills at his pro day workout Tuesday.

"The Panthers were one of 10 teams watching, and they'll be back Thursday for a private session with the two-time Walter Payton Award winner (the FCS version of the Heisman). What they're going to ask to see is a mystery to the multi-talented Edwards, the only player in NCAA Division I history with over 10,000 passing yards and 4,000 rushing yards. ..."

N.C. Governor heads film recruiting trip to L.A.

"Gov. Beverly Perdue and economic recruiters are equipped with a more generous tax credit as they travel to Hollywood to try to attract more movies and television productions to film in North Carolina," says the AP.

"Perdue leads a group of 20 Commerce Department officials, film boosters and others arriving Wednesday in Los Angeles for a three-day trade mission. They’ll meet studio executives, hold a reception and also visit some recruiting prospects outside the film industry. ..."

Monday, March 15, 2010

Quick hits: UNCC fires Lutz and Warren Wilson grad rows across Atlantic

Longtime Charlotte coach Lutz fired

"Charlotte 49ers men's basketball coach Bobby Lutz, the winningest coach in school history, was fired today after his team failed to make postseason play in the NCAA or National Invitation tournaments for the second consecutive season," said the Observer.

"Lutz met with athletics director Judy Rose and informed his assistants of her decision this morning.

"Lutz still had four years remaining on his current contract, which went through the 2013-14 season with a base salary of at least $237,000 per year. He received an extension prior to last season. ..."

Warren Wilson grad rows solo across the Atlantic

"A 22-year-old American rower who graduated from Warren Wilson College completed a solo journey across the Atlantic Ocean on Sunday, touching a pier in the coffee-brown waters off Guyana to claim a record as the youngest person to accomplish such a crossing," says the AP.

"Katie Spotz, who spent more than two months alone at sea, hugged her father and brother as a crowd of 200 people cheered her arrival in this South American capital.

“ 'The hardest part was just the solo part,' said Spotz, who said she struggled with boredom and had trouble sleeping inside the cramped, 19-foot row boat. ..."

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Barron's: It's safe to invest in AVL

Got a lot of extra dough and just not sure -- in this economy -- what is the safest thing to do with it?

Well, you could do much worse than buying a second home in Asheville, according to Barron's in its latest issue.

The publication lists Asheville as among places to buy a second home, along with places like Aspen, Colo., and Pebble Beach, Calif.

The weekly says lower prices and increased interest among bargain hunters make now a good time to buy an upscale vacation home, says the Citizen-Times.

Asheville has “a four-seasons lifestyle with just enough culture and good restaurants to keep urban-withdrawal pangs at bay,” Barron's says, recommending that buyers look at Biltmore Forest or what it called “funky Grove Park” in North Asheville.

If that description seems a bit odd for an area more likely to be called stately, or historic, keep in mind that the article appeared in Barron's “Penta” section, directed at families with at least $5 million in net worth.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

N.C. to continue to protect elk

"After receiving overwhelming public support for keeping elk on the state's list of Special Concern species, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission this week voted down a proposal to delist the animals," says the Citizen-Times.

... The proposal to delist the elk was one of more than 60 proposed hunting and fishing rule changes the commission brought before nine public hearings across the state in January.

The hearing in Sylva for Western North Carolina public comment drew more than 100 people who overwhelmingly spoke out in favor of keeping the elk a protected species in the state.

Elk, a species native to North Carolina, were reintroduced to the Cataloochee area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2001 with an experimental herd of 52 animals.

The herd now numbers 110 animals, which have been popular with tourists. In 2008 visitation to Cataloochee was 148,000 people, more than double from when the elk first arrived.

The idea behind the delisting proposal was to better manage the elk when they roam outside the protected boundaries of the national park and onto private property, said District 9 Commissioner Martin Lewis.

“We need a way to manage the elk who come off the park looking for food,” said Lewis, who lives in Asheville. “We need to ensure the safety of elk. We all agree we need to do something. We need to have a management plan.”

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Bullock wins big trophy for “The Blind Side”

East Carolina alumnus Sandra Bullock won the Oscar for Best Actress for playing a tough Southern woman who adopts a black child in “The Blind Side.” | Associated Press

Bullock, 45, beat out Oscar winners Meryl Steep and Helen Mirren and newcomers Gabourey Sidibe and Carey Mulligan to win her first Academy Award, then gave a charming speech . | Her speech

She had already won the Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe awards and tied Streep at the Broadcast Film Critics awards.

At the Golden Globes, Bullock pulled off a rare double, earning best actress nominations in two categories — drama (“The Blind Side”) and comedy (“The Proposal”).

Over the weekend, she pulled another, winning an Academy Award (“The Blind Side”) and a Razzie Award (“All About Steve”) — which are given for the worst achievements in movies. | Her speech

imdb.com | Oscar winners | 280 characters

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Raleigh is America's 'Most Wired City,' Charlotte is 16th

According to Forbes, Raleigh is the "Most Wired City" in America.

"Raleigh techies have new bragging rights," says the News & Observer. "The capital city took the top spot in Forbes' ranking of 'Most Wired Cities.'

The magazine looked at factors such as broadband penetration and access, and the number of public wi-fi hot spots. "Though a surprise winner, Raleigh boasts plenty of technology assets, including a high concentration of info-tech companies, research universities and state government offices," Forbes wrote.

Raleigh was No. 15 on last year's list, and this year bumped off more traditional tech hubs such as Seattle, Atlanta and Washington.

Charlotte came in at No. 16.

Said Forbes: Raleigh "is the kind of tech-forward city that, innovative as it is, often gets overlooked in favor of San Francisco, San Jose or Seattle. But this year the North Carolina capital passed its flashier rivals to grab the No. 1 spot on Forbes' Most Wired Cities list.

Raleigh's win means it ranks higher overall than any other U.S. city in three measures: broadband penetration, broadband access and plentiful wi-fi hot spots. Taken together, the factors point to a populace that readily uses high-speed Internet inside and outside the home.

At stake is more than just bragging rights. As the U.S. formulates a national broadband plan designed to connect the entire country to fast, affordable Internet, Raleigh and other top-ranking Wired Cities could serve as models for change.

Though a surprise winner, Raleigh boasts plenty of technology assets, including a high concentration of info-tech companies, research universities and state government offices.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Garofalo, Smart to star in Wilmington medical drama

One Tree Hill won't be the only game in town in Wilmington for long. CBS' Untitled Medical Drama will start shooting at EUE/Screen Gems studios this month. The pilot is scheduled to shoot in the Port city for about three weeks. Then, it will be considered for pick up. New series are usually announced around the second week of May.

“This is great news for workers and the economy in the Southeastern part of the state,” said Governor Beverly Perdue. “This project will bring hundreds of jobs and much-needed revenue over the next few months and it is exactly what we expected once we were able to make North Carolina more competitive through an increased film tax credit.”

The ensemble drama from executive producer John Wells (“ER,” “Southland”) chronicles the travels of a mobile medical team that helps in medical crises around the country. The show's writer is Hannah Shakespeare (“Ghost Whisperer” and the 2007 “Bionic Woman” series).

“Twilight” actress Rachelle Lefevre is set to play the lead, a young and competent doctor. Actress Amy Smart also is attatched.

It was also announced that Janeane Garofalo is signed up. She will play "'Angel," the chief nurse and operations manager.

Jordan buys Bobcats; name to change?

Reports out of Charlotte are that basketball legend Michael Jordan has bought the controlling interest in the NBA's Bobcats, with MJ "making a huge personal financial commitment" to the endeavor.

Now Jordan's challenge will be recruiting investors to share the risk of owning the Bobcats, once Jordan is approved as controlling owner sometime in the next two months.

As the source said, Jordan won't want to risk possibly "losing $30 million a season," all by himself, as [previous owner Bob] Johnson has of late.

Recruiting partners proved difficult for Johnson in Charlotte. He had a group of about 18 minority partners but owned the vast majority of the Bobcats himself. Those partners, in recent years, declined to participate in cash calls to cover the team's financial losses. They have been told to expect "significantly less" than their initial investment in return to make this deal work.

It's unclear whether any of those minority partners will be part of Jordan's ownership group. But Jordan, with his world fame and high profile, may have an easier time finding partners for an NBA team in his home state.

Jordan, who has not commented on his deal with Johnson, has been a minority partner with oversight of basketball operations since June of 2006. Under NBA rules, one investor for each NBA team must be designated "controlling owner," but that investor doesn't have to own a majority of the team - his share can be as small as 15 percent.

An exact purchase price hasn't been revealed, but industry sources estimate it's in excess of $250 million.

Jordan is expected to have more of a presence in the Queen City than he has up to this point. Honestly, up until now Jordan has been raked over the local coals for not being in Charlotte nearly enough. In fact, he's still being asked to be more involved in the community.

Michael Jordan has run the basketball operation for the Charlotte Bobcats since 2006. But the team wasn't his [says the Observer's Tom Sorensen]. ...

The rules have changed. If the Bobcats lose money, Michael will lose money. So maybe he'll change, too.

He has to. Michael dabbled as an NBA executive. There are people who devote more hours a week to looking for a job than Michael devoted to the Bobcats. ...

His supporters talk about his commitment to winning. But on the basketball court, that commitment lasted 21/2 hours. If he truly runs a franchise, his commitment won't end when the game does. ...

Although Michael grew up in North Carolina, he moves in an orbit most of us can't fathom, an orbit that is peculiarly his. So maybe I'm being small-town here. But he ought to live among us. In and around Charlotte there are more than 100 houses for sale in the $1million range. Deals are available. Realtors are standing by.
And here's more.

It's another big moment for MJ in a state that has grown used to celebrating alongside him. Jordan grew up in Wilmington, first became famous in Chapel Hill and has lately been directing the Bobcats' basketball operations in Charlotte [says Scott Fowler].

Now Jordan will own the team instead of Bob Johnson, who became so widely unpopular that even the team's "Bobcats" name is tainted in some fans' eyes.

Yes, there is even talk of the Bobcats' name changing. After all, former owner Johnson named the team for himself.

If Michael Jordan listens to his customers, and potential customers, he'll seriously consider a name change from "Bobcats'' once his purchase of Charlotte's NBA franchise is complete [says Rick Bonnell].

Too many of you have emailed me with that suggestion not to think it's an issue to many Charlotteans. You didn't like Bob Johnson naming the team after himself, and you sure don't see this as a positive once Johnson is no longer majority owner.

So, should the Charlotte franchise's team name be changed? If so, to what? Go here to vote. So far, the overwhelming vote is "yes."

(Image from the Charlotte Observer)