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Fair Grounds, Baird Park removed from proposed entertainment district

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By PATRICK HALL, The Wilson Post
Plans for the Cumberland Center entertainment district have undergone some changes as the James E. Ward Agricultural Center has been removed from the proposed site while city and county officials work to hammer out the details of the development.

During his initial presentations, Lebanon Mayor Philip Craighead proposed establishing an entertainment district that included the Ag Center where the Wilson County Fair is held, totaling almost 700 acres.

Craighead pointed out the removal of the Ag Center was an effort to make the overall plan more simplistic, and said he also removed the baseball and softball fields in Baird Park from the entertainment district.

Knowing you had two other organizations over there, it muddied the waters a little bit, Craighead noted, referring to Wilson County Promotions and the county commissions Agricultural Center Management Committee.

Larry Tomlinson, director of the Ag Center, also noted with the Ag Center having an oversight committee, it was unnecessary to have it in the entertainment district. Craighead hopes to establish an Entertainment District Authority Board consisting of city and county officials to oversee the development of the entertainment district.

They didnt feel like the Ag Center needed to be a part of that because we already have a board, Tomlinson said. It would just make another bureaucratic hoop to jump through.

Craighead pointed out hes been speaking with numerous county and city officials about the entertainment district since his initial announcement and said the districts borders have changed as a result.

He felt the reduction in size will help the Lebanon City Council and Wilson County Commission approve the creation of the district and ultimately move the Cumberland Center plans forward.

Included in the Cumberland Center plans are a 150,000 square foot events arena that may include a professional, minor league ice hockey team from the Central Hockey League and also 1,500 square feet of convention floor space. The proposed events arena would only begin construction after two milestones have been met and more than 400,000 square feet of retail space is occupied.

The establishment of an authority board and the designation of the arena as a qualified public use facility require approval of the Tennessee General Assembly. A bill has been crafted by the Mayors office to send to the legislature when they reconvene in January 2012.

Under the current Convention Center and Tourism Development Financing Act of 1998, the proposed Lebanon events arena does not meet the definition of a qualified public use facility. The proposed bill would change the definition to match the 6,500-seat center.

If the bill is adopted, a tourism development zone could be created, establishing the entertainment district and the authority board could use incremental sales tax increases within the district to finance the districts development.

Also in the proposed bill, local sales tax revenues within the district would be used to finance development of the Cumberland Center, instead of both state and local taxes. The bill would also amend the law to allow for the creation of the authority board that would dictate how revenues from taxes within the district are used to further the development.

While the process is still in its infancy, Craighead pointed out hes working with the county to set up a meeting to get city councilors and county commissioners in the same room to discuss the future of the Cumberland Center.

Were trying to arrange a meeting with the council and the (county) budget committee or something like that, Craighead said.

Staff Writer Patrick Hall may be contacted at phall@wilsonpost.com.

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