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County revives Expo Center idea

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"To be or not to be, that is the question" - where the Wilson County Expo Center is concerned. The Public Works Committee of the Wilson County Commission voted 5-2 this week to freshly recommend a proposal to build the Expo Center and sent it on to the Budget Committee.

Public Works took its vote after hearing a presentation by County Mayor Randall Hutto and Lebanon architect Michael Manous Tuesday evening.

The building, described as 86,270 square feet, is proposed for the Wilson County Fairgrounds on Baddour Parkway. It would include a 45,702-square-foot exhibition hall, according to the plans presented by Manous.

One-acre exhibition hall

The area would feature a retractable wall which could divide the area in half, allowing two different events to go on at the same time. The room would enclose a little over one acre of space with 25-foot ceilings.

Manous said that the construction design would allow the entire 150-foot-wide span of the exhibition hall to have no internal columns. He also said that the area could be arranged for multiple uses. When it is set up with movable bleacher seating for a graduation, the room could hold over 6,000 people.

Arranged with concert seating, the hall would have room for about 3,000 people, and using eight-person tables for a banquet, the hall could seat about 2,100.

Could hold 4 basketball courts

If a trade fair were booked, the area would accommodate up to 244 ten-by-ten booths - and for sports tournaments, there is space for four simultaneous basketball or volleyball courts plus fan seating.

Also included in the Expo Center, of course, would be space for all the necessary amenities such as break-out meeting rooms, locker rooms, kitchens and administrative offices.

Manous told the committee that he projects that construction would take about 10 or 11 months to complete. "The intent is, we would start as soon as the fair closes and finish before it opens the next year," he said.

No hotel tax increase

When the Expo Center was first proposed over a year ago, the county wanted to increase the hotel and motel tax to pay for it, since hotels and motels would benefit from the groups of people the center would bring to the area.

But then the City of Mt. Juliet refused to agree to the increase, saying it might drive potential hotels and motels away from Wilson County and that the county's tax is already high.

Hutto said when county officials looked again at the proposal, they decided that Mt. Juliet was correct and temporarily shelved the plan.

But now, having looked at the proposal again, Hutto suggested that the county consider the possibility of funding the Expo Center itself. It would cost about $9 million to build, but the mayor said a study estimates it would pay back the cost in 10 to 20 years.

'Fees would cover operating costs'

Hutto also has a plan that would cover the running expenses of the center. He said it would need five employees to run, plus of course upkeep and utilities. These costs, he said, could be covered by the fees for renting the building in combination with an extra small charge for all the other events at the Wilson County Fairgrounds.

The mayor added that one more way to raise part of the money to build the Expo Center would be to "bid out the naming rights."

For instance, he said, "If Cracker Barrel wanted their name on it, they could pay for the privilege and pay a part of the operating cost each year for the publicity."

Hutto said his major reason for bring the Expo Center back up is that the added sales tax it would generate could help with the need to build new schools that the burgeoning growth in the county will require.

"It's only a matter of time - we're going to have to build new schools in the county," he commented.

'Extra sales tax might prevent other tax hikes'

County Finance Officer Aaron Maynard also pointed out that the added sales tax revenue coming in from the recently-developed Providence Marketplace is part of the reason the county hasn't raised property taxes for schools thus far.

"In a dream world, there are no tax increases," Maynard said. "But it is going to happen. We will need taxes for schools. The question is, will it be sales tax or property tax?"

He added that while this is a $9 million project, it would generate sales tax revenues and, in his opinion, improve the quality of life in the county.

Writer Connie Esh can be contacted at cewrites@yahoo.com.

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#development, development, Expo Center, James E. Ward Ag Center, Wilson County, Wilson County Fairgrounds
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