ASHEBORO — Citing the need for more space and public visibility, the Randolph County Tourism Development Authority asked the county to consider a stand-alone building at the future Farm, Food and Family Education Center (F3EC).
Amber Scarlett, executive director of the TDA, made the request at the Dec. 4 meeting of the Board of County Commissioners.
She said her agency has already outgrown its building at 500 Albemarle Road, Asheboro, and is currently using space at the I-73/74 Visitor Centers for storage. Scarlett said the TDA now has about 3,000 square feet of space but would like to be in a building of between 5,000 and 6,000 square feet.
Scarlett also said the current location is “tucked away” and that “visibility … is challenging.” She noted that most of the local hotels are along the US 64/Dixie Drive corridor, the same place the F3EC will be. She said a move to Dixie Drive would improve the TDA’s visibility and help the tourism agency expand its relationships with agriculture, the tourism industry and Randolph County.
If located in the same area as Cooperative Extension, 4-H and other agricultural groups, Scarlett said, the TDA could more closely offer its hospitality and promotional expertise for events, seminars and other meetings.
She said the TDA Board of Directors would like the commissioners’ consideration for a stand-alone site at the F3EC while financing would be better.
“It would be an opportunity for a permanent home for the TDA,” Scarlett said. “It would be optimal for agriculture, for tourism and for Randolph County.”
David Allen, vice chair of the commissioners, said there needs to be a determination of what needs to be at the F3EC and to figure out what could be done if the TDA were to locate onto Dixie Drive. Scarlett told him that the TDA’s current lease on Albemarle Road still has six years remaining.
Commissioner Kenny Kidd noted that, if the TDA were to move, the current rent payments could be diverted to mortgage payments. “Once the ag center is up and running, people will begin coming,” he said. “The TDA could bring its expertise.”
Scarlett responded by saying, “We want to help with hospitality even if we’re not out there.”
The TDA Board of Directors had voted on Nov. 15 to recommend relocating to the future F3EC, which broke ground on Nov. 13 on E. Dixie Drive across from the intersection with Salisbury Street. It’s expected to open in early 2025.
The facility will house the Cooperative Extension Randolph Center and Randolph County Soil & Water. It will also provide:
— Event space for 4-H clubs.
— An arena for animal shows.
— An exhibit hall with seating for more than 500.
— A greenhouse, orchards, demonstration garden, pasture land and field crop test plots.
— Space for a future county agricultural fair.
Scarlett said in November there have been talks in the past in which the TDA would promote agritourism. Being on the F3EC campus would heighten the potential to work that phase of tourism in the county.
Also, she said, the site on heavily-traveled Dixie Drive would provide the Heart of North Carolina Visitors Bureau, the promotional arm of the TDA, with greater visibility.
Scarlett also said her organization’s experience could offer the agricultural community hospitality services during events, particularly that bring in outsiders. “We have the skills,” she said.
Will Massie, the Randolph County Finance Officer who also keeps up with the TDA’s books, said the Visitors Bureau would have a stand-alone building, if the Randolph County Board of Commissioners approves the plan. The county would own the building and lease it to the TDA.
David Caughton, chair of the TDA board, said the lease on the Albemarle building is long-term and there is no rush to move. But they would like to start planning now while the F3EC project is still early in order to begin working with architects on a building that would fit in with the planned administration building.
Massie said that, if approved by the commissioners, a new Visitors Bureau building would need an operating plan and a contractual agreement. The construction would have to be bid out separately from the rest of the F3EC construction.