10/31/10 — Tourism director sees successful future for Duplin Events Center

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Tourism director sees successful future for Duplin Events Center

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on October 31, 2010 1:50 AM

KENANSVILLE - The Duplin County Events Center can be a tremendous boost to the county's economy, even when it is not directly making a profit, Duplin County Director of Tourism Kristina Ayres told county officials Thursday.

Mrs. Ayres addressed the county commission, the center's board of directors and economic development representatives at a special meeting about the Duplin County Events Center's future.

After presenting information about comparative facilities in other counties, the tourism director proposed several short and long-term goals for the center.

First, the county must hire an experienced industry professional to step in and take over as center director when current director Stephen Williamson's contract expires in January, she said.

It is "critical" for Duplin County to have the right person in place in charge of the facility, she said. Then, the county must give the director "time and support."

Secondly, Mrs. Ayres proposed that the commissioners and Events Center board allow the new director six months' time to orient him or herself to the area and the center's possibilities, while creating a one, five and 10-year vision for the facility's future. At the end of that six-month period, the director should present the plan to county advisors, and then take into account the county officials' input as well.

A year after that, the new Duplin County Events Center director should have implemented the action plan, Mrs. Ayres said.

The Events Center has the potential to be home to top flight events, and has in the past hosted popular shows such as Larry the Cable Guy, a rodeo and many local high school graduation and educational events that brought visitors to spend their money in the county, Mrs. Ayres pointed out.

The center also has value as a social gathering place for the community's special moments, Commissioner Zettie Williams said. Although the commissioners were told that the center might need a subsidy to operate, that was "a hard lesson to learn" for some, she said.

Commissioner Frances Parks also spoke in support of the center, encouraging county officials and residents to be positive about it.

"Any negative remarks, just say 'Please shut up' to that person," she said.

According to statistics presented by Mrs. Ayres, more than 19,000 people have attended 23 free events at the facility. That is beneficial to the community, Mrs. Williams pointed out.

That's not to say the county should not attempt to make the Events Center profitable, the tourism director said.

"It is a goal that we should eventually reach," Mrs. Ayres said. "When you grow a seed, you have to water it awhile before you expect it to produce fruit."

Compared to venues in other cities in the region, Duplin's center's operating loss is fairly typical, according to a report produced by the city of Winston-Salem. Mrs. Ayres presented it during the meeting. In 2008-09, the Duplin County Events Center brought in $225,200 in revenue, and cost the county $525,958 to operate - not including debt service for its construction.

Several other people voiced their own thoughts about the center during the meeting. Iris Lennon, owner and manager of The Country Squire restaurant and winery, emphasized how important it is to small businesses in the county to have the draw of a place like the Events Center.

"It's endless, endless, the ripple effect," she said.