Duplin County works to bring Events Center back in spotlight
By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on February 13, 2011 1:50 AM
By MATTHEW WHITTLE
Assistant News Editor
After a rough 2010, county officials hope they have the Duplin County Events Center back on track as commissioners voted Monday to pursue the re-acquisition of ABC permits for the facility.
County Manager Mike Aldridge explained that the facility lost its permits last year when VenueWorks decided not to renew it contract to manage the facility.
But, he said, the Events Center's problem began well before then when the Jan. 28 Willie Nelson concert was raided by state Alcohol Law Enforcement agents and members of his band were cited for drug and moonshine possession.
"The Willie Nelson fiasco really shook promoters up," he said.
In fact, shortly after that incident he said, the same promoter who had brought in Willie Nelson canceled an Amy Grant/Vince Gill Christmas special.
And adding to the problems, Aldridge acknowledged, were the public discussions between commissioners, as well as the managerial void that existed for about a month, creating uncertainty about the Center's future.
"That's been part of our challenge, trying to get everybody on the same page, and that uncertainty created a big, gray cloud over the whole facility as far as promoters were concerned," he said.
In June 2010, though, former advisory board member Stephen Williamson agreed to step into the director position on an interim basis, and began working to repair relationships.
"It's been extremely tough," Williamson said.
However, he continued, there was a silver lining to the fallout from the Willie Nelson incident -- people in Duplin County began to rally around the Event's Center as it started taking heat from people outside the county.
"It kind of opened up a door for us," he said. "The general public has started to take a little more ownership of the building, and we've needed that."
But, he said, the real test will be the Center's performance in March when it hosts the Oak Ridge Boys and Big Daddy Motorsports for a truck and tractor pull.
"March is a big month," he said. "If that goes well .... I feel like this will be a better year than last year."
And, Aldridge said, a part of that is getting the ABC permits back.
"Certainly that's a big part of our concession revenue stream," he said.
And while he doesn't expect the Center to ever turn a true profit, they do want to "do everything we can to make it as profitable as possible."
But the real benefit, he added, is what the Center does for area businesses -- hotels, restaurants, gas stations and more.
"They're the ones that can really reap some benefit from the facility," he said.