Loudon County multipurpose building study wraps up

Jeremy Styron-News-Herald

A multipurpose complex may still be in the county's future as officials prepare to wrap up a feasibility study that will include the potential tax revenues and local economic benefits that could be generated from a new facility.

As part of phase one of the study, representatives from consultants Bullock Smith & Partners and Owens Economics met with Loudon County officials and complex committee members in September to discuss potential uses for a multipurpose building, which could include horse shows, 4-H events, rodeos, concerts and more.

The two consultants identified two sites in the city of Loudon that could house such a facility. The two sites are between 20-25 acres apiece.
"Both of those are a little bit restrictive," David Brashears, executive committee member, said. "For that type of facility, you probably need 70 something acres. Both of those were less than 25 acres."

One site was at the municipal park in Loudon near the amphitheater, while another was located near Purdy Brothers Trucking Company.
"The amphitheater would remain," Brashears said about the first potential site. "It would be back a little bit. The amphitheater would remain in place, and you'd still have those shows there and everything."

A report prepared by the consultants also offered estimates on the market for a multipurpose facility. Data showed while the local market is small, with about 64,000 people within a 10-mile radius, the potential for regional outreach is substantial. About 533,000 people live within 25 miles of Loudon County, and 1.2 million are within 50 miles.

Brashears said early estimates suggest the facility would break even from an operational standpoint. The consultants' final report, which is expected to be completed by Feb. 14, will highlight the potential economic effects that a multipurpose complex would create through residual sales at local restaurants, gas stations, hotels and other sources of revenue.

"We'll have an idea of how much revenue impact it will be on the county and the city," Brashears said.
Bill Owens, with Owens Economics in Herndon, Va., said a facility had the potential to attract numerous types of users in the region.
"We think that there are a lot of events that we have found particularly in the equestrian, rodeo area that will draw people into Loudon County from outside," Owens said. "People who will come for the day, but, more importantly, a significant number of people who will be staying overnight. That's where you get your real economic impact."

The committee considered three possible alternatives for a facility, with each varying in scope. The first alternative included a covered/enclosed arena with a separate multipurpose space that provides seating for 300 people and parking for 400 vehicles. The exhibition space would be 3,000 square feet.
The second option included an indoor arena and a 4,000-square-foot concourse for exhibition space. The arena portion of the facility would seat 2,500 people. This option also allocates 900 spaces for parking.

The third alternative, which was preferred among committee members, was a 3,500-seat indoor arena, along with a 6,000-square-foot exhibition floor. Committee members advised Bullock Smith & Partners and Owens Economics to prepare a plan based on this scenario for a complex housed on about 75 acres. A location for a larger site has not been released.

Loudon County Commission Chairman Roy Bledsoe, who also sits on the advisory committee for the multipurpose facility, said while the complex was initially billed as self-sustaining, he was not sure how construction would be funded from the county's perspective. Loudon County is in the process of completing $43 million in school construction projects and could be faced with building a new jail or renovating the current facility because of inmate overcrowding.
Bledsoe said he did not get a concrete dollar figure on the multipurpose complex.
"I asked the question, 'What it would cost?', and they weren't ready to give us that answer, so until I can find out what that is, I don't know how will it pay for itself," Bledsoe said.

He said he did not want to "put cold water" on the project and that he was toeing a cautious line in endorsing it until he received more details.
"Until you get it to where you're pretty well sure that it's paying for itself, I don't like to jump too far on a limb not knowing where my money's coming from to pay my debt off," Bledsoe said. "Because if you take it, you're going to have to pay it. There ain't no doubt about that."
Advisory committee members, along with Loudon County Commission and Loudon City Council, are scheduled to meet in a joint workshop Feb. 18 to further discuss the project.

Curtis Catron, with Bullock Smith & Partners, could not be reached for comment.
Owens said based on his work with Bullock Smith & Partners, the multipurpose complex would support "more than enough" uses in Loudon County.
"The trick is going to be achieving the right balance to promote community access and youth access, and at the other end of the spectrum, kind of revenue-producing, income-producing uses," Owens said.

Brashears said a multipurpose complex would likely supply the county with residual revenue in hotel and restaurant sales, along with increased awareness about Loudon.

"If you're looking at the preliminary data we've got - keep in mind this is preliminary - it will be a benefit to the community, raising awareness," Brashears said. "This would be regional facility. It would be a facility that reaches out much further than just Loudon County."