As a 70-year old, super conservative property owner, business owner, and resident in Harpers Ferry, I am generally against State governments interfering in local affairs, but the Harpers Ferry town government hasn’t managed the Hilltop House Project effectively and efficiently, so I 100% support the Tourism Development District Act, which provides a solution to the current impasse regarding the Hilltop House Project.

I served on the Harpers Ferry Planning Commission from 2007 to 2014 and was a Commissioner when the SWaN Group presented their original plan for the Hilltop House in May 2010. This plan was inappropriate — and I was among the most vocal of critics. I subsequently served on the Steering Committee that developed the “Vision” for Harpers Ferry and worked on development of the East Ridge Promontory Overlay District Amendment — so I am aware of the criteria for development set forth in these documents. In addition, I have served on the “Make it Happen” Steering Committee, which has actively supported the Hilltop House Project since 2019.

The current plan for the Hilltop House meets the criteria set forth in the Overlay Amendment. I do not understand why Mayor Bishop and some of the Council Members oppose the SWaN Group’s use of paper streets and have otherwise failed to expedite the development process. I understand that “everybody wants a hotel built” — and I understand the appeal of an exact replica of the former Hilltop House — but SWaN’s current plan enhances the character of the former Hilltop House with amenities that will attract tourists year-round and consequently increase winter tourism. With increased sales during the winter season, other hospitality-related businesses in addition to the Hilltop House will pay increased Sales, Business / Occupation, and Room Occupancy taxes, to everyone’s mutual benefit.

As owner of the Town’s Inn in the middle of Lower Town ( 175 and 179 High Street ) since February 2007, I’d be especially interested in seeing if Town tax revenue records for all tourism-related businesses indicate the same revenue pattern that the Inn has experienced over the past fourteen years: operating at full capacity during the busiest period ( Memorial Day to Labor Day: June, July, August)  and then experiencing an 80% drop in income when the “most busy” period is compared to the “least busy” period ( January, February, and March ). Sadly, 80% of Inn expenses ( utilities, insurance, auto, maintenance, repairs, etc.) continue at about the same rate whether the Inn is very busy or very un-busy — so I have had to borrow money and lay off good employees every year for the past fourteen years because I cannot charge summer guests prices high enough to cover winter expenses.

The weather in Harpers Ferry is perfect for winter getaways, as currentresults.com indicates: In January, February, and March, the average high temperatures are 43, 45, and 56 degrees and the averages low temperatures are 24, 25, and 33 degrees respectively. However, the Town and County have done practically nothing to develop winter tourism. On the other hand, I’m confident that the Hilltop House team will do everything possible to develop winter tourism, consequently increasing year-round sales for the businesses and tax revenue for the government.

I sincerely believe that the Hilltop House would make the Town a year-round, vibrant tourist destination to everyone’s mutual benefit — so I encourage not only passage of this tourism bill but also immediate action to “make it happen.”

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