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The TDA's current office at 500 Albemarle Road.

TDA hoping to move to future ag center

ASHEBORO — Agritourism could get a big boost if the Heart of North Carolina Visitors Bureau moves to the county’s heart of agriculture. 


The Visitors Bureau is the promotional arm of the Randolph County Tourism Development Authority (TDA).


The TDA Board of Directors voted on Nov. 15 to recommend relocating to the future Farm, Food and Family Education Center (FFFEC). Known alternately as the Ag Center, the FFFEC broke ground on Nov. 13 on East Dixie Drive across from the intersection with Salisbury Street. It’s expected to open in early 2025.


TDA Executive Director Amber Scarlett called development of the new facility “a great opportunity ahead of us.” Although the tourism organization has only been at its location at 500 Albemarle Road for just a handful of years, Scarlett said there are already issues with storage and office space. She said her staff has been “constantly using Visitor Center storage now,” referring to the welcome centers/rest areas on I-73/74 south of Seagrove which are under the management of the TDA.


“My goal is to have a permanent home that’s comfortable and with room to grow,” Scarlett said. 


She would like for the county commissioners to authorize the construction of a building of between 5,000 and 6,000 square feet near the entrance to the FFFEC.


The FFFEC would 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, field crop test plots and space for a future county agricultural fair.


Scarlett said there have been talks in the past in which the TDA would promote agritourism. Being on the FFFEC 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 with greater visibility. 


Scarlett said her organization’s experience could offer hospitality services to the agricultural community during events, particularly those 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 standalone 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 FFFEC project is still early in order to begin working with architects on a building that would fit in with the planned administration building.


Amy Struble, a TDA board member, asked if a Visitors Bureau building would need additional funds. Massie said it would.


Scarlett said the TDA could fund the fees for any architectural renderings. Ross Holt, TDA member, said that a lease agreement is what the TDA can offer the county. But the Visitors Bureau would need to know what access it would have to other parts of the facility.


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 separate from the rest of the FFFEC construction.


Scarlett said she plans to take the plan to the next commissioners meeting on Dec. 4. Struble advised the board to not “be conservative with the size.” Scarlett said a larger building would provide the Visitors Bureau with “all kinds of ways to expand our team. I don’t want anyone to have to share an office. Individual space is a work perk.”


Caughron added that there have been problems with vandalism after hours at the present location. “We want our staff to feel empowered and safe. I think they would over there,” he said.


He said the executive committee has had several discussions about moving forward on the proposal and wanted the support of the full board. Luke Hollingsworth made the motion to support the relocation of the Visitors Bureau and Barbara Gallimore seconded. The board voted unanimously in favor.