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Work on Event Center nears completion date

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Rocky Mount Councilman Reuben Blackwell, the president and CEO of Opportunities Industrialization Center, speaks Friday during the preview event at the Rocky Mount Event Center.

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BY PATRICK MASON
Staff Writer

Sunday, April 22, 2018

A portion of the event floor was filled with chairs positioned in front of a stage.

It was a large display, as space arranged for those who played a part in the realization of the Rocky Mount Event Center as they spoke on Friday afternoon ahead of a limited tour.

The size of the center is immense, as the large crowd took up just a portion of the space allocated for sports tournaments and concerts on the massive event floor that can hold eight basketball courts and 16 volleyball courts.

Construction of the Event Center is still ongoing, with a completion date set for this fall. On Friday, sections of the large facility were available to walk through. Space for offices could be seen, as well as plans for much more on the upper levels.

Reuben Blackwell, CEO of the Opportunities Industrialization Center, assured people in attendance that the center will be much more than a sports destination. The center aims to revitalize Rocky Mount. Blackwell talked about the center allocating space for an urgent care center as well as an imaging center.

The imaging center will be a state-of-the-art facility and aims to help people in the community who need medical help. One aspect that Blackwell said he is excited about is that women will be able to receive mammograms and checkups. He estimated that there are about 1,000 women in the area who either can’t afford to receive this type of care, or they have transportation issues.

“It’s a short walk from just about anywhere downtown,” Blackwell said. “We aim to make Rocky Mount the center of it all.”

As for the sports scene, John McDonald, the regional executive for Sports Facilities Management, a company that helps plan and guide centers like this, said that the center has received 47 requests for events. Back in March, the center had 26 events requested for future use.

While McDonald said that a reasonable expectation would be for half of those inquiries to follow through, the addition of about 20 more events means that the center is well on its way to proving that it can be a capable host, even during the construction phase.

On Friday, McDonald revealed that his team acquired a state basketball championship. The NTBA — National Travel Basketball Association — will host its state championship at the event center in 2019.

The South Carolina-based league traditionally plays its championships in Charlotte and Myrtle Beach.

This is a big get for Rocky Mount, as McDonald said he believes that once other tournament directors see that something like the NTBA state championships can play and succeed here, it will be an important step in booking more tournaments like it.

“We have three events scheduled and two state championships with the NTBA,” McDonald said. “It’s one of the first dominoes to fall. Most people have never heard of Rocky Mount, but once these events start coming through, word will get out. It’s located just a couple hours from everything you need, and teams from Virginia or D.C. are already used to traveling five-plus hours for tournaments, so this wouldn’t be out of their range.”

In order to fit all of this, the building has to be massive. At 150,000 square feet, the center takes up over a city block, leaving little room for parking spaces on its immediate campus.

McDonald also addressed the parking issue. He said there are about 400 spaces available right now, though conversations will take place in the near future to better figure out how to increase that number.

Right now, agreements with the nearby church and Imperial Center are options for parking, though that won’t always be the case. And the 400 spots may seem enough for smaller events, but more spaces will be needed once sports tournaments begin.

He was optimistic that a solution would be reached.

“We’re going to have conversations about this very soon,” McDonald said. “I’m confident we’ll figure it out. And with the plans we have for this center, it will be a larger problem if those parking spaces that we do have aren’t filling up.”

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