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Dare commissioners support Soundside Event Center concept

On Monday, Aug. 2, the Dare County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to support the concept for a Soundside Event Center presented by the county’s Tourism Board.

Since 2019, a Tourism Board-appointed Advisory Committee has investigated, interviewed, considered town ordinances and looked at rough building designs and site layouts.

The committee settled on one concept, made a presentation to the county’s Tourism Board and received support.

Lee Nettles, executive director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, brought the concept to the Dare commissioners, who had requested a plan for The Soundside Event Site in Nags Head.

Nettles quickly pointed out that the concept is “not a building design, operating plan, rate structure or funding proposal.”

As proposed, the event center would be 48,275 square feet of heated and cooled, flexible indoor space to accommodate sports, concerts, small tradeshows, banquets and meetings.

The largest area is the event hall at 26,000 square feet with collapsible walls to partition the space for concurrent events and flexible use. Small footprint sport events such as wrestling, gymnastics, cheerleading and pickleball, which happen year-round, could be held.

As envisioned, a back wall would open up and connect to the event lawn.

The Event Center could host groups of 300 to 2,500 people.

A kitchen – at 2,800 square feet – is sized for a learning center with an opportunity to partner with College of The Albemarle and Dare County Schools for culinary training.

Nettles told the board “you’ve probably noticed that I haven’t called this building a convention center.” He said Virginia Beach’s convention center is roughly ten times the size of the concept presented.

However, Nettles emphasized that events are “a good strategy” to fulfill the mission of the Tourism Board to increase visitation during the non-summer months.

For example, several events such as the wedding expo have outgrown existing spaces. Having an indoor space would take the OBX Rod & Custom Festival to the national level, speculates the festival leader Michael Tillett.

According to Johnson Consulting, after five years, the Event Center would annually generate $25.15 million in new spending, more than 14,000 room nights, $1,171,000 in tax revenue and nine full-time center jobs. The facility will also operate at a $312,000 annual deficit.

Said Nettles, “consultants have consistently said a stand-alone multi-use facility will operate at a loss. We know that going in and we can plan for it. It’s worth it for the multi-million dollar return the facility will have for the community.”

The Event Center would be positioned close to S. Croatan Highway. The old Dairy Queen building would go away, as would Pamlico Jack’s. As laid out, 72% of the soundview is preserved.

The Event Center would not include a hotel on Tourism Board-owned property. It is not part of the recommendation coming from that board to the commissioners. Such a development would require more on-site septic, which is physically possible but would take up part of the event lawn. Additionally, the Hotel-Motel Association “adamantly” opposes the idea.

Commissioner Rob Ross, a member of the Advisory Committee, commented to Nettles, “very good job.”

Ross also explored the hurdles needed to be jumped in order for the Event Center to become a reality.

The Town of Nags Head’s current zoning does not accommodate the Event Center as proposed: the size at 48,275 square feet is larger than the 20,000 square foot limit; the center’s height is in the neighborhood of 45 feet, above the 42-foot town height limit; proposed parking slots provided are slightly under what’s required.

State permits required are wastewater and stormwater.

The estimated cost is $17.6 million, but Nettles wants another estimate.

Construction funding and financing will necessarily be a partnership as Dare County’s Tourism Board cannot borrow money, a limitation found in its authorizing legislation passed by the North Carolina General Assembly.

Commissioner Danny Couch made the motion to support the concept seconded by commissioners Wally Overman and Ervin Bateman. Couch will draft the supporting resolution.

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