I'm glad the public hearing on a $58 million bond referendum concerning the Agricultural Event Center (AEC) has been moved from Aug. 6 to Aug. 13.
With a packed courthouse expected, a meeting devoted entirely to the issue makes more sense than combining it with a regular meeting and other agenda items. Rescheduling will also give opponents and supporters more time to prepare their arguments, and may help dispel any clouds churned up over the legality of hearings, “official” bulletin boards or typographical errors in postings.
The C-T is trying to bring as many facts to bear on the conversation as possible. Through a series of articles, most spurred by readers' queries, we've touched on funding, taxes, construction options, scaled-back versions, and the like. Have we missed anything?
Some think we've overlooked an important piece of the equation — operational costs. (For details, read Dr. David Jones' letter on this page.)
Since maintaining such a facility is just as important as building it, I've asked County Manager Hal Johnson to respond. Below is his summary, but if you want to read more of the Magellan Strategy Group's feasibility study, go to the county website, http://www.randolphcountync.gov/, or click the link if you are reading this column online.
In May 2017, the Magellan Strategy Group, utilizing funding provided by the Tourism Development Authority, completed a feasibility study for the AEC. This study explored the viability of a new agricultural event center to be located on a 104-acre parcel on Highway 64/Dixie Drive. The study highlighted the positive economic impact of agriculture to the Randolph County economy and the impacts the AEC might have on Randolph.
The feasibility study followed a conservative approach in forecasting demand, revenues and expenses. The expenses were based on a 65,000-square-foot arena and two warm-up rings adjacent to the arena. The three barns for housing livestock total 100 stalls for each barn. The meeting and event space was approximately 7,000 square feet to be used as an educational and conference facility. A 10,000-square-foot office building connected to the event center was part of the original feasibility study.
The feasibility study addressed the issue of operational cost at the very beginning by stating that most arenas/event centers operate at a loss when considered in strict profit and loss financial terms (revenues minus expenses).
The AEC draft master plan, as presented to the commissioners, recommends a 99,104-square-foot arena and a 67,233-square-foot office building/event center. Larger facilities for livestock housing, which include 400 stalls and warm-up facilities, are also included on the master plan.
Projected revenues as outlined in the study, after three years of operation, were $351,561. Projected expenses totaled $453,900 at a facility of the size identified in the Magellan report. The expenses included projected cost of four full-time and additional part-time labor. These figures projected a $102,339 loss at Year 3.
However, other benefits have to be considered when assessing financial advantages to the county. These benefits can be both direct and indirect. An example could be increased sales tax revenues would then be distributed between the county and its municipalities.
The feasibility study identified potential revenue sources (in addition to the property tax) for both agricultural center development and operational support. In addition to event rent and ticket sales, these included naming rights, office rent paid by outside agencies located within the office building, private fund-raising, grants, possible 1 percent (hotel) occupancy tax increase, and potential state support as given to such centers in Asheville, Williamston and Lumberton (none in central N.C.).
The current master plan also allows for future public/private partnerships as areas are reserved for a possible hotel and related commercial activities. Although we do not have prospective clients at this time, the county would receive revenue from these sources through property tax and/or leasing agreements.
Randolph has options as to the size, cost, scope and timing of this project which would impact final costs and the county's ability to pay for the project. The plan provides a guide, but, once a decision is made on the final size and scope of the proposed center more accurate information on operating cost and revenue can be calculated.
Take our poll
If you haven't taken The C-T online poll, there's still time. Go to www.courier-tribune.com and click on any AEC-related article or column. The link will take you to the question.
As of Friday morning, 224 people had voted, with 67 percent saying they would support the referendum to fund the AEC and 33 percent saying they would not. I'll have another update next Sunday ahead of the Aug. 13 hearing.
* Annette Jordan is the editor of The Courier-Tribune. Contact: 626-6115 or firstname.lastname@example.org.