For the better part of the past six months, Rocky Mount leaders and residents have turned their attention to a proposed event center designed to bring more activity, visitors and, yes, dollars to our community.
Much of the study and analysis of the project culminated Monday night in a public hearing that for the first time gave residents an opportunity to express their views before members of the Rocky Mount City Council who will soon be voting on whether to build such a facility.
We also have listened, with a great deal of interest, to both sides of the debate. Because of the complexity of the issue, it would be difficult to consider every aspect of the proposal in even a series of editorials, let alone just one. For that reason, we’ll look today at the pros and cons of what such a center might do for our community. In Wednesday’s edition, we’ll consider ways the city has suggested paying for such a facility.
As supporters of the proposal have pointed out, the Rocky Mount Sports Complex has generated a great deal of tourism and new money for this community. Youth league sports – and a first-class facility in which to hold them – have proved a highly popular recreational opportunity for athletes, coaches and families, and for the hotels, restaurants and merchants who welcome those visitors here on almost any given weekend.
An event center would offer another venue for more visitors. Supporters envision a facility that could serve as a small basketball arena for more athletes, coaches and spectators. It also could host small conventions, trade shows and other events, both business and social.
In our study of the proposal, we looked at similar centers in Fayetteville, Roanoke Rapids and Concord.
The Concord center provided one of the more optimistic examples of how successful such a facility might be. Its operators organize some 250 events a year at the Concord facility. Imagine an event center here that would draw out-of-town visitors to Rocky Mount four or five nights a week.
Yet, even in that bright scenario, the Concord center operates at an annual deficit of about $1 million per year. There can be little doubt that the visitors it draws have a healty financial impact on the Concord economy, but even so, that’s a big financial burden for a small city to carry.
Analaysts who have considered the proposal for the Rocky Mount facility estimate that such a venue here would operate at an annual deficit of between $300,000 and $600,000 a year. That seems understated, given the experience in Concord, but even if it holds true, that’s still a big wallop on a budget already stretched thin in Eastern North Carolina.
How would City Council members propose to offset that deficit? We’ll use this space in Wednesday’s edition to consider the options before them.