04/10/05 — Advisory board to be chosen to operate Duplin center

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Advisory board to be chosen to operate Duplin center

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on April 10, 2005 2:00 AM

KENANSVILLE -- The Duplin County Board of Commissioners has approved the formation of an advisory board to help them run the events center when it opens in mid-September.

Commissioners told Fred Eldridge, the county manager, and Ed Emory, the director of the county Extension Service, who are members of the center's steering committee, to select qualified people who would agree to serve on the advisory board and bring that list to them for approval. The advisory board will have eight members, with someone from each commissioner district and the county manager and tourism director serving as non-voting members.

The committee wants to make the events center a place for entertainment, education, agricultural events, meetings and conventions and trade shows on a local, national and international scale. The steering committee will remain in force after the advisory board is formed but it may dissolve eventually, said Emory. At present, he said, board members believe it is important to continue meeting to help provide direction for the overall picture. The county also has an outdoor theater and Kenan Memorial Auditorium that will receive attention from the committee.

The advisory board is expected to concentrate operations, fixtures, equipment and establishing fees for use of the center. If a company were chosen to manage the center, the advisory board would pass on to county commissioners all recommended budgets and things like hirings and firings. If the center were managed by the county, the advisory board would recommend whether that person would be an independent or a regular county employee.

Eldridge and Emory researched other event centers and found that, in almost every case, they had a similar group to help with oversight and establishment of things like a fee schedule. This would ideally keep the county commissioners from "getting bogged down" in the day to day operations of the center.

"This gives you eyes and ears out there in the community," said Eldridge.

It's going to require a lot of work, said Emory. "If it's not formed, all this work will fall on the county commissioners."

Until the center opens, the county has hired internationally-known Compass Facility Management to do pre-opening management of the center for $3,500 a month. Eldridge said the company is well known for its expertise in management of places like arenas and civic centers, both public and private. An event is already scheduled for the end of September, and the county is still receiving inquiries, Eldridge said. The advisory board will recommend in October how the center should be managed.

The Steering Committee has also set up a non-profit organization called Duplin Commons Foundation to handle finding ways to pay for the center, and Eldridge has asked members of the Duplin delegation to the General Assembly to help get an increase in the occupancy tax, which is currently at three percent to raise revenue. He said they are trying to get the tax raised to six percent.