12/11/05 — Convention center still possible

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Convention center still possible

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on December 11, 2005 2:08 AM

City and county officials say Wayne County needs a place for large gatherings and that a new convention center for the county is not out of the question -- or off the agenda.

Lack of seating has already been a problem at several local events since the Paramount Theater burned down earlier this year. The fire left the auditorium at Wayne Community College as the community's only choice for large audiences.

In November, when Holocaust survivor Gizella Abramson came to Goldsboro to speak about her experiences, those who wanted a seat in the auditorium had to get there early -- and some were turned away when available seating was unable to accommodate those who wanted to hear the speech.

Wayne Community College president Dr. Edward Wilson said the auditorium is capable of seating 400 people. On the day of Ms. Abramson's speech, he said the college was forced to turn 150 people away.

At other events, such as graduations and presentations, Wilson said he could have used anywhere from 600 to 2,500 more seats to properly accommodate the attendants. No matter what name the structure would go by, Wilson said the need for event seating increases each the year.

"There is the potential for a lot of confusion when one talks about a convention center. What is a convention center to one person might not be to another," Wilson said. "Let's use meeting place. We need a large meeting place in this community."

Members of the arts community would also benefit from the construction of a building to house their functions. Fred Kelly, who serves as director of the First Baptist Church's III Century Singers, said there are many places to perform in the county, but not many that carry sound well.

"For music, it certainly is nice to have a facility made for music," Kelly said.

Arts Council director Alice Strickland agreed that it would be beneficial to have a facility constructed for music and performances.

The building would also need good lighting, plentiful seating and an interior similar to a performing arts center, she said.

"There is probably a great need in the community," Mrs. Strickland said. "If the city can manage to have the Paramount rebuilt, that would accommodate the arts needs. I doubt we would look farther. Other auditoriums in town have been generous and provided us space."

Before the Paramount Theater burned down, the building provided stage and musical performers with an appropriate spot in which to perform, Mrs. Strickland said.

For now, churches and auditoriums are filling that void, but Kelly said the need for a convention center is growing throughout the county.

"I think Goldsboro could certainly use a convention center, and I would love to see it downtown," he said.

City Manager Joe Huffman said there have been no specific plans for a convention center in Goldsboro. There has been discussion, however, concerning the need for more space among city officials and several committees.

"We have talked with architects about the idea of meeting rooms. I have asked about the possibility of a convention center," Huffman said. "But nothing has been debated by the City Council."

Possible locations for meeting space include areas downtown adjacent to the Paramount. There has also been discussion about additions to the city's recreational center, but since there have been no specific plans, Huffman said the topic will be addressed by the City Council at a later date.

Wayne County Manager Lee Smith said county and city officials have looked at convention centers in South Carolina to see which structures did and did not work. He added that although there has been no specific discussion concerning a convention center, the community could definitely use additional space for seminars, training and events.

"The commissioners know about the need, but they don't know about the priority," he said. "We'll depend on the city for guidance."