08/19/08 — Civic center: Study says city should support site

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Civic center: Study says city should support site

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on August 19, 2008 1:39 PM

Goldsboro City Council members got a preview of the results of a civic/conference center feasibility study Monday night.

The $36,000, four-month study conducted by Strategy 5 -- which involved interviewing community stakeholders, ascertaining the demand for such a facility and comparing civic centers in the region -- showed that the Goldsboro area could benefit from such a facility.

But Taylor Yewell, a Strategy 5 representative, said the facility the company recommends wouldn't be just a run-of-the-mill civic center.

He said he believes the concept of an Air Force Museum and Conference Center is the way for the city to go -- a facility that would include nearly 74,000 square feet and include a grand ballroom, auditorium, pre-function area, breakout rooms and catering kitchen on top of a 20,000-square-foot museum and 300-square-foot gift shop.

After looking at comparable facilities in the region, such as Greenville's convention center and New Bern's riverfront convention center, Yewell said Goldsboro needs something that will make groups stop and consider Goldsboro instead of moving closer to the coast.

"How do you make the facility attractive to people who may overlook you?" he asked.

Pairing an Air Force museum with a conference center would be different than any other facility in the area, but it is a concept that Yewell believes wouldn't fly without the planes.

"If you didn't have the Air Force Museum, I'm not real sure it's feasible to have a convention center in Goldsboro with the existing supply in the region and the lack of corporate presence," he said. "I think you've got something. You've got a hook."

Yewell said that the convention center would also need to include lodging, as "lodging is a key to the success of meeting facilities," he said.

Strategy 5 looked at three potential sites for the concept -- one in the downtown area, one off of U.S. 70 and one on Wayne Memorial Drive.

Yewell said there are pros and cons to each location, but that all are good sites. He added that a little more than 12 acres would be needed to include the facility, grounds, parking and lodging as well as land for future expansion.

The site suggested for the downtown area was a 12.95-acre tract on the corner of South Center and Elm streets.

"Putting a convention center downtown is definitely a boost to the revitalization of downtown. It is a catalyst," he said.

But it would require the building of a hotel and land acquisition.

The second site, a 10-acre tract by the Premiere Theatres behind Pizza Inn off U.S. 70, would have hotels nearby, so lodging wouldn't need to be a part of the center's building plan.

"Call it the hotel-cluster alternative, if you will," Yewell said. "And there are food and beverage sites there that would benefit from this."

But, again, the land would have to be purchased. The asking price is currently $1 million.

The third site, a 20-acre tract beside Wayne Community College on Wayne Memorial Drive, would be one that city leaders "could do more with," Yewell said.

"You could sort of master plan it out," he added.

Plus, the city already owns the land.

The problem is that the site would still need a hotel, and Yewell feels it is in a "remote area."

"One of the key determinants of success is how soon can we get the land, or will a hotel go out there as is? Because if not, then you won't have a good conference center," he said of the sites.

Yewell also looked at potential revenue, saying the museum angle would bring the community more than the convention center would.

"Museum and theaters and such have known for years that there is money in meeting space and holding corporate functions," he said. "Why couldn't you turn that around and have a facility based on meeting space with a museum attached?"

He estimates the center would cost $9.4 million to build.

The price doesn't include land costs or the content of the museum.

Yewell estimated the center would bring in $367,000 in the first year and go up annually from there, but the expected annual expenses would likely be around $560,000.

And Councilman Chuck Allen wasn't so sure the revenues would be so high.

"I don't see anybody in Goldsboro paying that kind of money," he said. "Seeing how the Paramount (Theatre) has done, and some other things, I think we'd have a tough time bringing that in."

Yewell said that he admits there are "some revenue shortfalls that need to be addressed," as the net operating income after the first year would be more than $165,000 in the red.

But, he said, there are some potentially large economic impacts.

He estimated that hotel occupancy will increase by 10 percent, generating an additional $57,600 in annual occupancy tax revenues, and that additional retail spending will be $176,000 more a year.

Overall, the museum and conference center is projected to generate about $1.39 million of direct spending in the local economy, he said.

Yewell suggests the next steps involve forming a citizen's advisory committee, preparing a design and renderings of the site, preparing a site plan, starting to raise funds and inquiring about potential exhibits for the museum.

Mayor Al King thanked Yewell for presenting the information, and added jokingly, "As far as I'm concerned, we just need to find someone to build it for us 100 percent, and they can control it 100 percent."

The results were to be unveiled to the public at a meeting in the City Hall Addition at noon today.

In other business, the council held five public hearings, but only one person spoke.

One of the hearings was held regarding a request made by William Painter for a conditional use permit to allow the operation of a child care facility in conjunction with First Assembly Church located on the south side of Summit Road between North Oak Forest Road and Berkeley Boulevard.

Painter stood up to remind the council that the church gave the city a right-of-way some years back, and asked that the fee in lieu of a sidewalk, which is roughly $2,900, be waived or reduced.

The remaining public hearings involved a request to change the name of a street, rezoning requests and another conditional use permit. No one spoke at the hearings.

A hearing was held to change the name of Spring Court to Granville Place, while another was held regarding a request made by Auto Investments LLC to change property located on the southwest corner of North Oak Forest Road and Summit Road from general business to highway business, allowing for a variety of commercial uses aimed toward those traveling through the area and would permit a high-rise advertising sign.

A public hearing was held on a request by Kathy Woodard to change property located on the north side of East Ash Street between Piedmont Airline Road and Oak Forest Road from residential to neighborhood business, and another was held regarding a request from Bobby Reavis to amend a previously issued permit to move display vehicle and customer/employee parking spaces associated with the used car lot to the adjacent lot to provide additional parking for other uses.

Council members approved Sept. 2 as the date for a public hearing for a contiguous annexation request made by Auto Investments LLC.