Members of the Ag Management, Budget and Public Works Committees held a joint meeting Monday to discuss the proposed Expo Center at the Ward Ag Center.
Mike Manous of Manous Designs presented details on the size and possible usage configurations for the nearly 86,000-square-foot facility and said it would create “some curb appeal on Baddour Parkway” at its proposed location near the front of the Ag Center grounds.
Last week commissioners learned the results of a feasibility study regarding the Expo Center.
Ag Management Committee Chairman Jeff Joines asked Rusty Thompson to discuss some scenarios that were created based on the study results.
“What we needed to do was take that impact study down to the bottom line, taking those figures and putting them in scenarios the study did not cover,” Thompson said
He took the original numbers given by the Middle Tennessee State University study, which included a national high school rodeo that is slated to be held at the Ag Center in the future.
“With one additional event, we can raise the utilization rate to 14 percent [from the study’s initial 10]. That’s not only possible, that’s probable,” Thompson said.
He said, though, that the facility’s success would depend on sales and management.
“If we don’t have anybody renting it, we can’t send anybody a bill,” he said.
Joines called on Ag Center Manager Larry Tomlinson to give the committees a rundown of how often the Ag Center is used for events throughout the year. “Out of 365 days, we’ve had 351 with something going on at the Ag Center. It would have been 352 except they had to cancel the City of Lebanon Fourth of July fireworks,” Tomlinson said,
Tomlinson also addressed a concern on how many events have been lost to the Ag Center.
“We have lost several events because we didn’t have a big enough facility for them to use.”
Following Tomlinson’s report, Joines said, “We’ve been talking about how we’re going to fund it. We have floated around the last several months increasing the hotel/motel tax 3 percent. We have also tapped the 1 percent going to the tourism department that was not being used. Each percent equals $150,000. That’s how we propose to pay the bonds.”
In a unanimous vote, members of the committee elected to send a private act to the legislature asking for the capacity to move the hotel/motel tax from 5 percent to 8 percent.
“If you send the 3 percent now, you can modify that down later,” said County Attorney Mike Jennings.
In addition to the proposed hotel/motel tax increase, Gary Keith and Kenny Reich both suggested sending a private act to the legislature asking for a $1 fee on every paid admission to the Ag Center. This fee would be imposed on all events with such admissions.
“No exemptions,” Reich said. “If you buy a ticket to anything at the Ag Center, it’s a $1 per person fee.”
This fee would go toward operating costs of the Expo Center.
“One of the things I’ve heard from the hotel/motel folks is ‘we’ve got more skin in the game.’ Well, this shows that more people will have skin in the game,” Joines said.