LUMBERTON — Robeson County’s state House delegation successfully lobbied last week for an additional $100,000 to be put in the state budget to fund operating costs at the newly opened multi-purpose pavilion at the Southeastern N.C. Agricultural Center.
The pavilion is the result of two decades of work to establish a local facility capable of providing for equestrian and livestock events. Such a facility has long been promoted as one that will boost the local economy.
“It was a close vote, 61 to 55,” said Rep. Garland Pierce, a Democrat, who ran the funding amendment through the House with the support of Rep. Charles Graham, a Democrat, and G.L. Pridgen, the county’s lone Republican representative.
It’s now up to state Sen. Michael Walters to make sure the $259,000 isn’t cut from the Senate budget, according to Pierce. That amount is $141,000 less than was originally requested.
Walters said that Senate committees will begin this week reviewing the $20.3 billion budget proposal approved by the House.
“It’s important that we provide proper funding to ensure that the pavilion be successful,” said Walters, a Democrat. “We have to provide funding to market that facility, not just in North Carolina, but throughout the Southeast.”
The 55,000-square-foot building, which opened in April, will not only provide for equestrian and other livestock shows, but is capable of being used for everything from family reunions and weddings, to concerts, trade shows and other events. The facility is the responsibility of the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
According to Pierce, the state money will be used to fund such things as temporary wages for employees, Social Security payments, utilities, building repairs, supplies and advertising.
“It would be ludicrous not to give enough money to support this facility,” Pierce said. “That would be setting it up to fail.”
Graham and Pridgen both agree that the state needs to provide enough money to promote the facility and keep it operating.
“This facility is in its infancy stage and needs to be given a chance to be what it is intended for,” Graham said. “There needs to be sufficient funds to keep it rolling and gaining recognition.”
“The state has already made more than a $4 million investment in the facility,” Pridgen said. “It needs to fund the pavilion’s operations so that area tourism is promoted.”
Kent Yelverton, director of the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Division of Property and Construction, said that his department had requested close to $400,000 for operating and promoting the pavilion.
“The timing is just unfortunate,” he said. “I can’t remember any other time when the state has opened a new building and the Legislature has not immediately come up with an expansion budget for the facility. …This building is opening under an unprecedented budget situation. It’s nice to have the building, but it’s an unfortunate time to bring it on line.”
According to Yelverton, stalls that are needed to make equestrian events successful are likely not to be built at the pavilion any time soon. Originally it was anticipated that about 100 stalls, constructed at a cost of between $500,000 and $600,000, would be available by the end of the year.
To date, the only definite funding for stalls is $50,000 from both the city of Lumberton and Robeson County to match a funding request to the state Golden LEAF Foundation.
“We are continuing to look for funding for stalls,” Yelverton said. “We will submit an application for funding to Golden LEAF in mid-August. The application will be considered at Golden Leaf’s October meeting.”
Yelverton said that those who are currently using the pavilion for activities appear happy with the facility.
“All the feedback I’ve been getting is that the users are happy with the facility. There have been no issues raised,” he said.
Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or email@example.com.