While Harlan County Judge-Executive Joe Grieshop awaits official word as to whether the recently appropriated $120,000 in adventure tourism coal severance funds may be applied to fund the School House Inn’s daily operations, he and the fiscal court are expected to discuss the possibility of borrowing approximately $120,000 against the facility to keep it open.
“What we have allowed to happen is the position of borrowing some money to make sure we can continue the Benham Inn for about six months while we shake out everyone’s position,” Grieshop said. “That is basically what we are looking at.”
He said the loan will secure the facility’s future until there is a decision regarding the use of the adventure tourism funds.
“We are still checking that out. I have people saying yes, and I have people saying no. Until all of that gets settled, we have to make sure. That is why we have asked about a loan and then put the building against that loan,” Grieshop added when asked about the $120,000 in adventure tourism coal severance funds the court recently appropriated to be used at the School House Inn. “If we had not done that, the building would have been closed on Oct. 1. We would have had eight laid-off people, and we would have had a building that by now may have been destroyed.”
While Grieshop said the county hopes to keep the School House Inn open, he stressed that the facility should ultimately be the responsibility of the state.
“Getting it back to the state is what we are really pushing our legislators to do. The state’s position is that it has been a very slow year and the whole economy of Kentucky is slow. So, they have to cut what needs to be cut,” he said. “It was never the desire of the fiscal court to micromanage any of the tourism industry in the Tri-Cities area. In the long-term, the fiscal court cannot be put in the position of operating those facilities. It is a very difficult thing for a county to do.”
However, he added that there is a possibility that neither the county or state government will continue to fund the School House Inn.
“I told the people at the foundation, there may come a point where the county and state government choose not to continue, and then we would have to sell the Benham Inn,” he said. “That is a difficult thing to discuss because there was a lot of effort to keep the Benham Inn going.”
Grieshop said the attractions in the Tri-Cities will be an important factor in the county’s tourism future.
“When people come here, there may be people to come with them who don’t choose to ride on the mountains. When visitors stay for four or five days, they are looking for something else. That is what we can offer people. The more diverse our offerings, the better off we will be,” he said. “We think the potential is there, but not right away. It takes a lot of work to get out the advertisement and to get people to start coming in.”
A meeting has been scheduled for Dec. 1 at the Harlan Center to discuss the future of tourism in the county. Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo is scheduled to attend the meeting, and Grieshop said he plans to invite other state legislators as well as local adventure tourism officials.
“I think that night a lot of this will come out,” Grieshop said regarding the meeting. “There are no easy answers for this. But I feel that if there were nearly 30 years of effort from our citizens in the Tri-Cities to take this historic area and to make something of it through the attractions, that we shouldn’t let that fall to the side over some bickering. We need to come together and find a way to hold it in place, and the day will come when this will become something.”