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Even scaled-down, convention center seems a nonstarter with commissioners

Alamance County is apparently a poor choice of setting for a convention center on the order of the crowd-luring behemoths in Durham and Greensboro. But it may nevertheless be a hospitable spot for a mid-size event venue that would cater to local demands rather than court visitors from far-flung locales.

That, in short, is the conclusion of a formal feasibility study that the local visitors bureau commissioned last year to determine just how well-suited Alamance County is for a world-class convention facility.

The results of this study, which were presented to Alamance County’s commissioners on Monday, may seem a bit pessimistic for this sort of analysis, which can usually be counted on to deliver an outcome that fits with the preconceived views of the client. In this case, however, the prospects for a massive convention center in Alamance County were simply too much of a stretch for Hunden Partners – the firm which the visitors bureau had hired to conduct the assessment.

During Monday’s report to the commissioners, Lexi Cuff, a consultant with Hunden, acknowledged that the county had some of the prerequisites for a gargantuan meeting facility. It boasts a growing population, a robust hospitality industry, and ready access to interstate highways. Cuff nevertheless pointed to the limited local demand for such a facility due to their saturation of other, nearby communities in the Triangle and Triad.

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Yet, rather than simply dash the hopes of the visitors bureau, Cuff instead urged it to downside its aspirations and pursue a more modest gathering place in line with the community’s needs.

“The demand is not currently strong enough to support a convention center or conference space,” she went on to sum up her conclusions to the commissioners. “However, there is a market for smaller meetings and social events…There are only two dedicated meeting facilities that can accommodate in excess of 250 people…and the demand exists for a large, flexible space that can host more than 500 people for an event.”

Cuff ultimately encouraged the county to meet this demand by developing a “ball room and event center” with roughly 10,000 square feet of floor space. She also alluded to the potential to expand such a facility to accommodate indoor sports and other activities.

Alamance County commissioner vice chairman Steve Carter

“This is probably not something that we would want to look at right now. I can’t see us putting that kind of money into something like this. We have too many hard needs right here.”

– County commissioner vice chairman Steve Carter

Cuff projected a cost of $17,570,000 to develop this mid-size facility – a far cry from the $43.3 million that she predicted for a full-blown convention center with a floor area of at least 30,000 square feet. Yet, the price point for this putatively modest proposal was still a bit steep for Steve Carter, the vice chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners.

“This is probably not something that we would want to look at right now,” Carter told the rest of the county’s governing board. “I can’t see us putting that kind of money into something like this. We have too many hard needs right here.”

Carter conceded that this proposed facility may still be a viable option for a private developer or some sort of public-private alliance. The latter suggestion also seemed to hold promise for the board’s chairman, John Paisley, Jr., who said he has discussed just this sort of joint venture with local business people like Alan Gant of Glen Raven, Inc.

In the end, the study’s suggestions got little traction with the board of commissioners. All the same, this frigid response was taken entirely in stride by Grace VandeVisser, the executive director of the visitors bureau.

Grace VandeVisser

“This is a great resource whether it’s something that moves forward through the public sector or not,” VandeVisser said of the consultant’s report. “If we have a partner who wants to have this information in the future, it’s here for them.”

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