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Craighead discusses events center

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Lebanon Mayor Philip Craighead noted that individuals representing city and county governments as well as local citizens would sit on a proposed Entertainment District Authority Board if the Cumberland Center is established.

Craighead gave a presentation on the entertainment district at the Wilson County Place to Be meeting on Tuesday morning.

This is a community effort, and when its built, it will belong to us, to the community, Craighead said of the events center.

During the presentation, Craighead mentioned the establishment of an entertainment district authority to oversee further expansion of The Cumberland Center development, to allocate money for that expansion and to build the events center.

The board would consist of seven individuals, the Lebanon mayor said, and both city and county would be equally represented.

Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto and Craighead would be on the board along with one Wilson County commissioner and one Lebanon City councilor. Craighead also proposed having one city and one county resident on the board with those six individuals nominating a seventh member.

The board would then be responsible for deciding how money is spent and when to move forward on each phase of the Cumberland Center construction as well as construction of the events center.

The main thing is to never let this center become an albatross, or a burden on the community, Craighead said.

In the proposal, sales and property taxes generated within the district would be allocated by the board to continue construction of the district and events center. Craighead pointed out a small increase in property taxes in the district and the local sales tax share would go toward funding the events center.

When the center is built, legislation would allow the board to collect the state share of sales taxes generated within the center as well.

The board would also be responsible for determining a company most suited for managing the events center once it is built. Craighead addressed some lawsuits and negative opinions of Global Entertainment Corporation, a partner in building the center, and pointed out those were related to a part of their organization that is no longer in operation.

The corporation made the decision more than 18 months ago to no longer manage the events centers that it helps design and build. Craighead said the board would not be looking for GEC to manage the facility.

They would never be the group that we look to manage this facility when its built, Craighead said of GEC.

Hutto told The Wilson Post after the meeting there are many questions left to be answered, but members of the county commission are enthusiastic about a possible convention center in Wilson County.

He said the commissioners have been listening and looking at the details of the Cumberland Center proposal very closely. Hutto noted the commission has several questions that need answering before making a full commitment.

There are lots of questions that still have to be answered, Hutto said.

District 21 Commissioner Eugene Murray asked Craighead at the meeting if the board could dedicate the portion of taxes that is allocated for funding local public schools to building within the district.

Craighead indicated it could be possible to allocate the schools portion of taxes generated within the district to go toward expanding the development and building the events center.

That would take away from the schools a little, Craighead noted, but said what the entertainment district would mean for the community would outweigh the small drop in funding.

With the events center proposed to cost $40 million, Craighead said it would cost $2.8 million a year over 25 years to fully pay for the center. He pointed out in other communities, with the right funding sources they have paid for equal-sized centers in half that time.

Dodge City, Kan., which Craighead has looked toward as a model for Lebanons events center, put money aside 15 years ago for their center and it opened in February 2011.

They made a commitment to the community, he said of Dodge City.

Craighead pointed out Phase I of the entertainment district has been through the Lebanon Planning Commission and said construction on the first 225,000 square feet of retail space is preparing to move forward.

By PATRICK HALL, The Wilson Post / phall@wilsonpost.com.

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