Today is Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Expo Center plan updated

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The total square footage is 75,000 square feet, the District 14 county commissioner said. Well have about 45,000 square feet of exhibition space, up from 40,000 square feet.


Initially office space was planned for the Ag Center staff, Empower Me Day Camp, the Joint Economic & Community Development Board and a tourism department. However, to save cost, office space will be only for the Ag Center staff and for the tourism department if we bring it back, Joines said.


Lebanon/Wilson County Chamber of Commerce President Sue Vanatta asked if this would accommodate local high school graduations.


Rusty Thompson, a committee member, said depending on how the chairs are configured, it probably could handle about 6,000, but that the goal is to get to 8,000.


Joines also said that input on the plans designs have come from committee members as well as Wilson County Promotions, the non-profit organization that puts on the Wilson County Fair each year.


He noted that architect Mike Manous, who has worked on the plans from the beginning, has agreed to make what are hopefully the final changes on the centers plans for $15,000. He asked the committee to approve a payment of $7,500, with the other half coming from Wilson County Promotions.


The committee voiced its unanimous approval for the payment.


With the changes to the layout, as well as some to the faade of the building, Joines said the cost for the construction, as well as all of the furnishings, should be $9 million, down from $12 million.


Thursday morning, Joines told The Wilson Post that the project will be put out for hard bids, once the plans are completed and come back for approval before the committee and the full county commission.


When asked how he was able to calculate the cost, he said, When we retooled this whole thing, we said this is our funding mechanism and this is how much we can afford, $9 million. So make your reductions, do whatever you have to do, to get it in that $9 million budget.


Nobody knows what the actual cost is going to be until we bid it out, but theyre in this business, they know how much buildings cost. Plus, that $9 million is not just for the construction cost, but all of the furniture and furnishings inside as well.


We had to get an estimate so we could answer the question whether we would have an adequate funding mechanism in place, Joines said, adding that the project will go out for hard bids.


The funding mechanism being sought is a 3 percent increase in the countys hotel/motel tax, which Joines said should cover the cost of a 20-year bond as well as most operating costs.


Based on a 10-year track record, the current 1 percent hotel/motel tax has generated an average of $150,000 per year, Joines explained to the committee. The 3 percent that were going to ask for is new revenue in the amount of $450,000.


The current 1 percent hotel/motel tax was taken out of the countys General Fund approximately three years to fund the tourism department, he said. Since the elimination of that department a year ago, the money has been accumulating, but not been used.


Joines said they want to capture that 1 percent back for the building, which when added to the $450,000 in new revenue totals $600,000 in county funds. The committee plans to ask Wilson County Promotions to fund another $100,000 per year.


Thats where you come up with $700,000 a year, with roughly $500,000 of it going to pay off the bond, which will be over a 20-year period, leaving $200,000 to go toward operational expenses, Joines said.


But before any of this can happen, the county commission has to first pass a resolution seeking the state legislatures approval of a private act allowing the county raise the hotel/motel tax by 3 percent.


If the state approves it, then it will come back for two more votes by the county commission: one to approve the private act and the other to set the tax rate.


Joines said he hopes to have the new plans ready for review by the committees next meeting in October.


Joines was also asked about the money Empower Me Day Camp, a non-profit organization that holds summer day camps and other year-round recreational programs for children with disabilities, has raised over the years to build a building on the fairgrounds for their programs.


The chair said he had talked to Executive Director Michelle Hill a couple of weeks ago and they were still on board to donate the roughly $500,000 they have raised toward the building.


Ag Center Director Larry Tomlinson assured the committee that Empower Me Day Camp would have guaranteed use of the building on the dates they request each year.


Questions were also raised about the status of the feasibility study being conducted by Middle Tennessee State University. Aaron Maynard, county finance director, said he, county Mayor Randall Hutto and JECDB Director G.C. Hixson has looked at the survey and are satisfied with it.


It should go out sometime next week and then itll be about 30 days for them to collect as many as possible back, Maynard said.


Correspondent Amelia Morrison Hipps may be contacted at amhipps@downhomepolitics.com.

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