11/02/13 — Site could be perfect for proposed agricultural center

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Site could be perfect for proposed agricultural center

By Steve Herring
Published in News on November 2, 2013 11:11 PM

The old state-owned dairy property near Cherry Hospital has emerged as the favored site for a proposed $12 million Wayne County Regional Agricultural Center.

The property is located across from O'Berry Center on Old Smithfield Road.

While somewhat off the beaten path, it has advantages over the second possible location, the McFarland building across West Ash Street from the State Employees Credit Union, Wayne County Commissioner Bill Pate said.

Not only does the dairy area fit the ideal of where an ag center would be located, it provides space for the future as well, he said.

Pate is chairman of the committee charged with reviving the county's efforts to build the center.

"Another thing about McFarland, there is just no room for growth there," he said. "I can see things years from now possibly growing. There is so much more that you could do out there on (the dairy property."

Commissioner Ed Cromartie suggested one possible future addition -- a horse-training area to educate children who have never been around livestock and don't know anything about animals, Pate said.

That is something that couldn't be done at the McFarland site, he said.

To demonstrate the county's commitment, commissioners last month appropriated $2 million for the center.

The difference, commissioners hope, will be made up by state and federal grants and possibly some private donations.

"We have talked to our local legislators, and they are behind us on this," Pate said. "We sent letters out about two weeks ago to all of our congressional folks asking for their support."

The proposal calls for the center to be built on a nearly seven-acre site.

One disadvantage to the McFarland property is that it is surrounded by other buildings, Pate said.

"Plus I don't think that fits the agricultural ideals in my mind," he said. "The other site is just so much more acceptable. It may be more off of the beaten path, but you have got to remember that we are pushing hard for (Interstate) 795."

Pate said he attended a recent meeting on a feasibility study for the highway.

Currently I-795 ends at the intersection with Ash Street. The highway designs call for an interchange that will bring traffic into the area making it "a shot" just off the Interstate to get to the ag center, he said.

What people don't think about is that the ag center will be an economic development tool, Pate said.

Programs, some spanning several days, that are held at agricultural centers bring in visitors from across the state and sometimes from out of state, Pate said.

"The advantage that Wayne County has over a lot of these centers is we have hotels," he said. "It will not only fill these up, who knows when the Interstate gets there, just imagine the economic growth around that interchange."

As envisioned on the dairy property, a two-story, 56,565-square-foot center would be the new home of the Cooperative Extension Service, Cherry Farm administration, Center for Environmental Farming Systems, Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Services and Wayne County Soil and Water.

Most of those offices are now in the Wayne Center.

It also would include classrooms and an auditorium that could accommodate up to 378 people in banquet-style seating or 528 people in auditorium-style seating.

"That is the preferred site," Pate said. "You have everybody there together and you are on a state research farm. I can see this thing not only being a great thing for agriculture, but I see it as a great education thing, Now think about this, city kids who have never worked on a farm. Those kids can get out there and learn. Who knows, they might want a career in agribusiness somewhere, and we could promote that."

The educational aspect would complement what is being done at Mount Olive College and Wayne Community College as well, he said.

Originally, an "interested party" group was assembled early this year to see if there was an interest in an ag center. Steve Allen, president of Solutions for Local Governments, was contacted about the project as well.

Allen was involved in drafting the county's 2006 plans that did not go anywhere.

A formal committee has since been formed and is expected to meet early next month. It is possible the committee would be split into subcommittees possibly one for funding and another for facilities.

However, that is yet to be decided, as is a possible timetable.

Pate said he welcomes other ideas and hopes to have good mixture of people, including farmers, involved in the process.