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City launches work on event center

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Mayor David Combs speaks Monday during the groundbreaking ceremony for the Downtown Community Facility.

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By LINDELL JOHN KAY
Staff Writer

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Chilly weather didn't dampen the excitement shared by officials and residents who gathered Monday morning for the groundbreaking ceremony of the long-planned Downtown Community Facility.

“I was a young man when we started this project,” Mayor David Combs said jokingly to kick off the event. The City Council four years ago envisioned making a public investment to spur economic development and invigorate downtown. Cost projections run up to $41 million.

“We know we've done the right things and we're here to celebrate that,” Combs said, adding the project has been extremely vetted with public scrutiny, review by the Local Government Commission and high credit ratings.

City Manager Charles Penny said some people thought today would never come.

“We've taken a losing proposition and made it into a moneymaker with cash flow by the fourth year,” Penny said, adding that much of the credit goes to Dev Pathik, the founder and CEO of Florida-based Sports Facilities Management, which will be running the facility once it opens.

Standing among a small crowd of supporters, Rocky Mount resident Lige Daughtridge attended the ceremony as promised. Daughtridge has publicly questioned the facility since its inception. He said efforts by his Community Council forced city officials to rethink their first study and commission a second, better study, which led to a more sports-focused approach.

Daughtridge said he hopes the facility does well, but many similar facilities in other cities have become a drain on taxpayers.

“Rocky Mount has a fragile tax base, a fragile economy,” Daughtridge said. “This could be a huge burden on taxpayers.”

Daughtridge and Pathik bumped into each other after the ceremony.

“You've got a tall order to fill,” Daughtridge told Pathik.

Pathik said his company is helping similar facilities soar in cities like Myrtle Beach and Columbus, Ohio.

“We're crushing it,” Pathik said.

Daughtridge asked about who would be able to afford the facility, and Pathik answered churches and charities would be able to use the facility for free.

“With this facility centrally located on the Eastern Seaboard, we'll have no trouble filling it,” Pathik said, adding that he will have events signed up long before construction is complete.

The 175,000-square-foot facility will have a field house with eight basketball courts; a family entertainment area; meeting and conference rooms; and space for a possible medical center. In all, including parking lots, the facility will take up 12 acres.

Erecting the facility will be a joint venture between Barnhill Contracting and Holt Brothers Construction, with around 11,000 local people employed during construction, said Marty Moser of Barnhill Contracting. The collaboration is more than just a construction project — it's about community, about schools having a place for graduations, concerts and sports, Terrence Holt said.

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