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No action was taken on the railroad property issue at today’s Cumberland County Building & Grounds Committee meeting. Mayor Kenneth Carey told committee members he had spoken with representatives from the Norfolk Southern railroad and reported they’re “willing to work with” the city and county on an arrangement regarding the railroad property. Mayor Carey said he would recommend “waiting before we take any more action,” adding, “We’ve got a tentative drawing, but we’ve not got the survey done.” The matter will be revisited at a future meeting.

The big topic of discussion was the proposed Cumberland County Expo Center. Cumberland County Community Complex Manager Donnie Moody and 6th District Commissioner Wendell Wilson led a presentation about the planned 45-thousand square-foot multipurpose complex. The facility would have three divisible room spaces, commercial kitchen, two breakout rooms, storage area and a classroom.

The commercial kitchen itself would feature a demonstration station, three separate setups with ovens and tables, sinks, a dishwasher, commercial refrigerator and freezer. Plus, there would be two separate concession bays.

The cost of building the expo center – from a report dated October 3, 2017 – is $3,858,295, a third of what a comparable facility that opened a year ago in Wilson County cost.

“Wilson County [paid] twelve million to build theirs,” said Moody, adding this figure is from a local contractor.

He said the comparatively small size of the existing community complex left Cumberland County out in the cold when Patara Marlow expanded the Great Appalachian Homesteading Conference to two days for 2018. When Marlow moved her event to the Hyder-Burks Pavilion at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville because the complex couldn’t accommodate more than 1,000 people, the county lost out on $3,400 in revenue for the two-day event.

During the discussion, Wilson said the expo center would be a boon to area businesses. “If their business is picking up, they’re gonna add people,” he said. “All of that creates jobs for our citizens in our community. It’s win-win.”

Wilson then passed around a sheet outlining sales-tax collections, broken out month by month. He showed how sales-tax collection drops off during the colder months. “In the winter time it kind of goes down,” he said. “There’s a drastic drop in sales-tax revenue. … If we have something for other folks to come in and do, it’ll help our sales tax.”

At the time the Wilson County facility opened, citizens expressed concerns whether it’d be booked enough to make it worth its $12 million price tag. Now the facility is booked for the next three years.

“They’re not going to be our competition,” Wilson pointed out, noting Cumberland County would be the next-nearest comparable facility. “They’re going so send us business.”

There would be no building within 60 miles to compare to the size of the proposed expo center; and no comparable facility within 75 miles with a commercial kitchen.

“We have to be able to accommodate a small-size conference in this community,” stressed Crossville-Cumberland County Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Brad Allamong. “It’s a way of throwing off new taxes – people are going to be staying overnight,” which would add overall benefit to the county. “It’s a good investment,” he added.

To help fund the project, Wilson discussed a “privilege tax” – a 1% surcharge added on to food and beverages in restaurants. This tax would not be applied at grocery stores, just on food and beverages served in restaurants and purchased at liquor stores. Wilson explained those on fixed incomes – who eat out less than those with greater disposable income – would feel less of an affect; tourism would foot much of the bill. “Tourism sends lots of money into our coffers every year,” he said.

Mayor Carey would have to negotiate with Crossville City Mayor James Mayberry and the budget committee to get the tax enacted. Bond issues were also discussed as a means to finance the project.

Allamong indicated USDA grants may also be available to help defray the building costs.

Sponsorships are another possibility. Commissioner Rebecca Stone noted Smith County’s facility sought corporate sponsors for its breakout rooms and concession stands.

Wilson asked the committee if he and Moody – and members of the County Extension Office and the Fire Board, who have been integral in the project – could have their blessing to move forward with the next step. “We’ve got to look to the future… we feel like the time to do it is now,” he said.

Several committee members voiced their support during discussion.

Geisler indicated they had his blessing, but added, “We can’t do anything else until the city says yea or nay.”

Fourth District Commissioner David Gibson urged them not to wait too long. “We’ve put it to bed once and it’s cost us a lot of money.”

Building & Grounds Committee Chairman Terry Carter agreed, saying, “We need to move as quick as possible if we’re going to do this.”

Wilson told 1057 News security would be of prime importance at the proposed facility. He said a comparable facility he visited over the weekend for his granddaughters’ cheer competition used walk-through metal detectors operated by security personnel with hand-held wands. “Our facility will need something similar to that. Security is very important,” he said. “We have to be prepared.”

Mayor Kenneth Carey mentioned the issue of parking congestion around the courthouse building during early voting. He said his office fielded in excess of two dozen complaints yesterday, on the first day of early voting in Cumberland County, and there were other complaints received by other departments and offices in the building. Many of the complaints were regarding candidates’ supporters’ vehicles parked in prime locations in front of the courthouse all day, preventing voters and others with legitimate county business from parking conveniently. Mayor Carey mentioned one 79-year-old woman had to park in a lot behind French’s and walk all the way to the courthouse building just to renew her license tags for her car.

“We’ve got a parking issue going on around the courthouse on a normal day,” Mayor Carey said.

Ninth District Commissioner Woody Geisler agreed, and said fewer than 300 people cast votes today. “It’s only gonna get worse,” he noted.

Discussion ensued about putting an end to the practice of allowing the sign-draped vehicles to park in front of the courthouse.

“I think it’s a good idea to stop it, but it’s a good idea to stop it when it’s not in the middle of anything,” Geisler noted. “It’s hard to change anything in the middle of it.”

One of the last items of discussion was about a local man, Randy Brewer, who wants to use a metal detector around the courthouse, supposedly to look for a long-buried time capsule.

“I’ve got friends who like to metal detect,” Gibson said. “I don’t think the courthouse lawn is the appropriate place to do that.”

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