RALEIGH — Four state representatives who represent Robeson County are pushing a bill in Raleigh that could bring significant upgrades to the Southeastern North Carolina Agricultural Events Center.
The bill would provide $750,000 for permanent seating and a public address sound system.
“This will be the final piece in the process,” said Rep. Charles Graham, who is leading the effort. “This is not a tremendous amount of money when you see what the return can be. This thing can attract, not only equine events, but dog shows, lots of local events … concerts and all sorts of things.”
The other local legislators who are primary sponsors are Rep. Ken Goodman and Rep. Garland Pierce, who are Democrats like Graham, and Rep. Brenden Jones, a Republican.
The Southeastern North Carolina Agricultural Events Center includes a 10,380-foot meeting center that is available to the public, and a 55,000-square-foot pavilion for horse and other livestock shows. The entire facility sits on about 84 acres beside U.S. 74.
According to marketing material, “The pavilion includes a 32,660-square-foot show ring, vending concourse and seating area, show office, concession area and hospitality suite. The footing is adaptable to a wide range of events that include horse shows, livestock events, trade shows and motor sports events.”
Most recently horse stalls have been added to the facility to accommodate multi-day shows. The N.C. Horse Council Foundation led fundraising efforts, with nearly $600,000 raised locally with Robeson County and the city of Lumberton kicking in $117,000 towards stalls and $30,000 in materials.
In 2009, former Sen. David Weinstein secured $3.7 million in funding to help get the facility off the ground.
A farmers market was part of the facility, but it turned out to be a big money loser and it was shut down. Since the pavilion was constructed, it and the meeting center have kept busy.
Graham believes the investment in the state-owned facility would complete its becoming a “state-of-the-art multi-purpose center” and boost the local economy of an impoverished county.
“It belongs to the state, if they want to get it to the place they want it, we need to make the investment,” Pierce said. “We might have the opportunity to really sell it. That facility is in an area, with Interstates 95 and 74, with great potential to draw some great events.”
Republicans are in charge of the General Assembly, and Goodman fixes the bill’s chances at “fifty-fifty.” He added that the money is already tardy, and that the center should have been fully funded at the outset, and not by piecemeal.
“It should have been funded to start with,” Goodman said.
Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly