LUMBERTON —The Robeson County commissioners last week decided against including $66,000 in their 2014-15 fiscal budget to help fund the construction of a horse barn with 100 stalls at the Southeast North Carolina Agricultural Events Center.
But County Manager Ricky Harris says the commissioners are not shying away from their commitment to support the project.
“There are other funding avenues the commissioners can look at,” Harris said. “There are still probably some monies in this year’s budget that could be moved around if necessary … . It’s a decision that they (commissioners) must make, but I think they will do something before the new fiscal budget goes into effect on July 1.”
The county has already contributed $50,000 toward the stalls, the final piece in the puzzle of developing an equestrian events center that can provide the facilities needed to bring large multi-day horse shows to Robeson County.
The stalls will be added to support shows at the pavilion, a multi-events center that opened two years ago and is located off U.S. 74, just outside of Lumberton. The 54,000-square-foot steel building is capable of holding horse shows, livestock and dog shows, concerts, trade shows, weddings and private parties. It was constructed with $3.7 million from the N.C. General Assembly, a $1.2 million grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation, and other funding sources, including Robeson County and the city of Lumberton.
Kent Yelverton, the director of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service’s Property and Construction Division, said that even if the commissioners had put the $66,000 in their budget, the stalls project is still about $175,000 short of the projected $590,000 needed to build the barn and 100 stalls. There is no state money for the project.
“It (county money) is just one of the funding sources we have been pursuing to complete the project,” Yelverton said. “We will continue to pursue any funds available, private or public.”
Commissioner Tom Taylor, a strong advocate for the stalls project, said that the request for stalls funding was just one of several special appropriation requests that the county commissioners decided not to add to the budget proposal presented last month by Harris.
“You can add millions of dollars to the budget, and we decided not to do that,” Taylor said. “We have to go back to the drawing board when it comes to the stalls. Everyone wants to do something for this project. We want the county manager to look for some funds we can use.”
Commissioner David Edge on Friday echoed Taylor’s remarks.
“It’s going to happen. We are committed to getting the stalls built,” Edge said. “We just took the manager’s advice on Monday and agreed not to add more special appropriations to the budget at this time. We had a compiled list of items that each of us wanted to put in the budget and we knew we weren’t all going to agree on the item.”
The pavilion has proven to be a huge economic asset for Lumberton and Robeson County, according to Mickey Gregory, executive director of the Lumberton Visitors bureau.
“They are booking almost every weekend for events,” she said. “People have called me and said this is a great place to hold events.”
Gregory said that it was “naturally disappointing” that the commissioners have not yet found money to designate specifically for stalls, but added that she “understands the challenge.”
Gregory said that the community has raised much of the money in hand for the barn and stalls construction. T N.C. Horse Council, N.C. Horse Foundation and Borderbelt Horseman’s Association have led the fund-raising drive that has been supported by both privately and publicly.
“Our community has raised much of the money. So many have stepped up to get this going,” Gregory said. “We’ll get those stalls. People in the community realize what those stalls can do to for our county.”
While the pavilion has played a significant role in boosting Robeson County’s economy, Cecil Jackson, the vice president of the Borderbelt Horseman’s Association, said that the barn and stalls are needed to bring to the pavilion the “big three- and four-day” horse shows.
Jackson, who could not be reached for comment for this story, said last month that studies show there are three people for every horse participating in a show. These people, he said, spend money for such things as lodging, gasoline and food.
No time frame has been been set for the stall construction, according to Yelverton.
“We will get there soon but we can’t go out for contract until we have all of the funds in hand,” he said. “When we do, we will move forward.”
Yelverton said the barn and stalls will definitely attract larger horse shows.
“The economic impact (on Robeson County) will be substantially more,” he said. “… There will absolutely be a payback on this project.”