Western: Heels aim high

 In NC Trend

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By Jim Pomeranz

It’s been a decade since Appalachian State University pulled off college football’s upset of the century, defeating Michigan 34-32 in Ann Arbor. Since then, the Mountaineers have moved up to the NCAA’s highest competitive level, joined the far-flung Sun Belt Conference and invited more college powerhouses to Watauga County.

One of them is UNC Chapel Hill, which agreed in February to a three-game series with ASU that includes games in Chapel Hill in 2019 and 2023, and a match at Boone’s Kidd Brewer Stadium in 2022. The two teams have met on the gridiron only once before, in 1940 in Chapel Hill with the Tar Heels winning 56-6.

”Our goal is to continue to bring Power 5 opponents, when available, and quality Group of 5 opponents to Boone,” ASU athletic director Doug Gillin says, referring to the 10 main collegiate athletic conferences. “It benefits our students, student-athletes, university and community.”

Boone’s economy relies on tourism, so more arrivals for fall football games is appreciated by owners of the 5,000 hotel and bed-and-breakfast rooms within 30 miles. When Atlantic Coast Conference stalwart Miami visited last year, a record 35,000 fans attended. The game helped achieve full occupancy for Watauga County and surrounding areas, says David Jackson, president of the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce. “Because of our ongoing tourism business, we can handle these types of events with rooms and restaurants.”

The three-game series started with a casual conversation between Gillin and UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham. “If this had been just two home games for us, the guarantee to Appalachian State would have been too much,” says Rick Steinbacher, UNC’s senior associate athletic director. Agreeing to play in Boone made it a win-win for both schools. UNC will pay ASU $300,000 in 2019 and $850,000 in 2023, while the Mountaineers will pay $200,000 for the 2022 game.

Stadium capacity is key to guarantees. UNC’s Kenan Stadium seats 62,980. Kidd Brewer Stadium lists capacity at 23,150, but the Miami game attracted a much bigger crowd to see the Hurricanes win 45-10. ASU attendance averaged 26,153 last fall, including temporary bleachers and grassy hillside seating.

Win or lose, Appalachian State is excited to take on UNC, Gillin says. “This series will be great for college football in our state and for fans of both universities.”

Western N.C.’s largest mall may be feeling some heat from Asheville Outlets, which opened 10 miles away in 2015. Sales per square foot at Asheville Mall declined about 3.6% to $370 last year compared with 2015, according to CBL & Associates Properties’ annual report. Five other N.C. sites owned by the Chattanooga, Tenn.-based company — in Burlington, Cary, Fayetteville, Greensboro and Winston-Salem — had increased sales per square foot. Comparisons weren’t available for Wilmington’s Mayfaire Town Center. Malls normally see a slight decline in sales after an outlet center opens, but typically rebound, CBL spokeswoman Leigh Burnett says. The company isn’t backing off: Much of its $11.1 million for renovations in 2017 is slated for malls in Asheville and Wisconsin.     — Rebecca Logan

BYRSON CITY — Consolidated Metco will close its local plant, where it makes plastic dashboards for heavy trucks, by February 2018. About 125 of the plant’s 270 employees will be eligible to transfer to the Vancouver, Wash.-based company’s Canton plant, about 50 miles away.

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