Jeremy Styron | News-Herald
Bill Owens, with Owens Economics, speaks to a crowd of community leaders Thursday at Sweetwater Valley Farm. Owens, along with Curtis Catron, with Knoxville-based Bullock Smith & Partners, outlined the steps in undergoing a feasibility study for a proposed multipurpose complex in the county.
County leaders, along with representatives from Knoxville-based Bullock Smith & Partners and Owens Economics, met Thursday in the barn at Sweetwater Valley Farm to brainstorm uses for a potential multipurpose agricultural complex as part of phase one of the feasibility study.
While Bullock Smith & Partners will work on the architectural design aspects for the building once plans are more firmly in place, Owens Economics will analyze possible costs, including salaries and overhead, versus estimated revenues that the facility could generate.
Owens said he will also consider the residual effects on the community that will stem from hotel and restaurant sales.
"We will quantify that so that we have a sense of what the contribution is to the businesses in the community as well as the fiscal - the tax impacts - the benefits to the county and the cities," Owens said.
The next step in the process includes a demand analysis, in which plan developers will contact potential clients of the facility and gauge the level of interest of a multipurpose center in Loudon. The goal of the project is for the complex to be self-sustaining. The feasibility part of the plan is set to be completed by mid-January.
"What we want to do is make sure that we can find out, taking the pulse of the market, if there's enough demand out there to provide enough activity to generate the revenue to make this thing financially self-supporting," Owens said.
Numerous ideas were considered during the meeting, including using the building for school functions, dog shows, horse shows, motorcycle and car shows, as well as a possible emergency shelter. About 20 people attended the event, including county commissioners; Kathy Knight, assistant director with the Loudon County Economic Development Agency; Clayton Pangle, with the Loudon County Visitors Bureau; members of the feasibility study committee and others.
Mike Murrell, with Crossroads Dressage & Combined Training Society, said the equestrian club in which he is involved holds about four events per year, mostly on private farms.
"Right now, we don't have a specific place to go to," Murrell said. "We split it around to private farms for the most part, so this would be something the club would probably utilize."
"If you had that kind of facility, would it help you do a bigger event; would you do more events?" Owens asked.
Murrell confirmed that the club would, noting that the club currently has about 200 members. He said the club could potentially draw riders from middle Tennessee as well.
"There are opportunities for new shows that develop in response to the availability of facilities but also (there exists) the opportunity for shows to grow because they have more of an infrastructure to allow them to bring in more participants," Owens said.
Later in the meeting, Murrell said the building could see widespread usage from kennel clubs in the area, noting that some dog show venues, like Chilhowee Park & Exposition Center in Knoxville and another in Chattanooga, were aging.
"I'm convinced that a nice, new facility here would draw from Chattanooga and Knoxville for breed shows," Murrell said. "I think it's a big, big potential use."
Officials also discussed bleachers versus permanent seating as well as the possibility of adding a concrete floor rather than dirt.
Curtis Catron, with Bullock Smith & Partners, said that in some cases, a concrete floor was not feasible and that a dirt floor provided more flexibility in scheduling events.
"You can't have a concrete floor trade show on the weekend and then on Tuesday try to start the beginning of a multiday equestrian event," Catron said. "You can't get the dirt in fast enough."
Ken Brewster, with Brewster's Services Group, asked Owens and Catron if they had worked on a project in a county similar to Loudon.
"Have you guys done these types of facilities in a community like ours where hotels, eating establishments are limited?" Brewster asked. "And then after the facility was put in did you see an increase (in use) in those types of hotels, eating establishments after, or did it have a negative impact on the facility because those weren't in place already?"
Owens pointed to Corbin, Ky., which is a city comparable in population to Lenoir City. Located between Knoxville and Lexington, Ky., Corbin has a population of about 7,300 and is the site of The Arena at the David L. Williams Southeast KY AG & Expo Center.
"I think the short answer is there is going to be a positive impact," Owens said. "I think especially for motels. These events are going to generate pulses of demand, so there has to be something to kind of fill in between the pulses to make it work."
Owens pointed to the burgeoning industrial sector in East Tennessee as well as the proximity of the interstate as two potential avenues by which those gaps in demand can be filled.