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Mayor Andy Ball: Once student, now mayor 

Andy Ball’s life took an unexpected path as a student at Appalachian State University -- ultimately leading him to become Boone’s youngest mayor. After graduating from Sanderson High School in Raleigh, he decided to leave the Triangle for a smaller town where he could build relationships, and Boone seemed like a good fit.

On Nov. 5, 2013, his 31st birthday, Ball was elected to the mayor’s seat following Loretta Clawson, who encouraged him to run for town council as a student in 2009.

“I said, ‘They won’t elect me to the town council,’ but they did.” Ball said. “That was a big thing for the council to put their trust in me as a student.”

He took a couple years on council to decide if the job was right for him and decided to run for reelection in 2011 and won as the top vote getter. Three years later, Ball said he has a better handle on balancing his life as an elected official and realtor with a local agency.

He’s focused on better connecting young people to political organizations as a mentor for students. Students are encouraged to apply for one of three town internships, serve on boards or be active in civic clubs. Ball is also working on an initiative that will allow one student from Appalachian on each town committee.

“That’s something I think is important for my generation that is just coming up now as young professionals,” Ball said. “We don’t always put it high on the priority list, but it is important for us to be involved in the conversation because if we’re not at the table, we’re inheriting a problem 20 years later.”

Ball said the town has great cooperation with the university given its proximity to the downtown district. A Town Gown committee is made up of representative from the Chancellor’s Office, county commission and town to educate students moving into residential neighborhood on rules and what it means to be a good neighbor.

“We’ve always got challenges but we’re willing to work through them together,” he said.

Regardless of occupancy issues that sometimes stem from students living in residential neighborhoods, students make up a little less than half of Boone’s permanent population with only 5,000 of them living in dorms. Although Boone has a smaller tax base because of the university’s population and buildings, the students contribute heavily to downtown commerce and culture.

Town Hall is located on the main thoroughfare, King Street, which is lined with eclectic shops and restaurants. Many coffee shops exist to not only sell coffee, but things like wine and jewelry making supplies as well. As Boone grows, town leaders are planning ways to balance tourism, the environment and its unique cultural history through many programs and historic properties.

Boone recently started a cultural resources department responsible for managing town properties and focusing on history, including the Jones House, a house donated by local philanthropist Mazie Jones Lawrence.

“The Jones House is probably the crown jewel of our cultural resources department,” Ball said.

The house is located across the street from Town Hall and provides green space for casual walks and planned gatherings like the Mountain Home Music Series concerts in the summer and viewing space for the Christmas parade and Fourth of July fireworks display, one of Watauga County’s largest displays.

In addition to narrated walking tours downtown, visitors can learn about Boone’s history by attending Horn in the West, one of the state’s only outdoor dramas, which tells the tale of Daniel Boone passing through the mountains on his way west. The outdoor theater also serves as a town square and home to the Farmers Market where Ball, and most of the town, can usually be found Saturday mornings.

“It’s a great opportunity for folks. It’s not often they go online and find my number and call,” he said. “But since they know I’m interested, I think more people are willing to call and make the effort. I catch them in their routines and it’s a better dialogue we create in town.”

Not only is Boone looking for new ways to interact with citizens, but its council is getting more diverse with each election. The council is made up of a variety of experts in education, nonprofit organizations and professions like engineering, and members range in age from 29 to 70.

“We have a great council,” Ball said. “We’re just lucky to have folks in Boone who are so passionate about the community.”