Heery study sees a convention center and hotel

By on August 20, 2012

The 14-acre site is on the Roanoke Sound.

A long-awaited analysis of the sound-front Windmill Point property in Nags Head concludes that the best use of the land in the long term will be for a hotel and convention center.

In the short term, we are likely to see the parcel layered with new fill or modestly improved for more outdoor events.

Heery International was hired by the Dare County Tourism Board to assess options and recommend the best course of action for the 14-acre site just north of Whalebone Junction. Its report was unveiled at last week’s board meeting.

The bulk of the property is owned by the board with a smaller portion owned by the town of Nags Head. It derives its name from the restaurant and old-time windmill replica that once stood there.

Heery’s report was divided into two sections, with the first outlining two near-term options.

One was to place fill in all areas of the parcel to accommodate future development or to enhance its value if it is sold.

The second was to place fill in the most needed areas, then embark on a progression of enhanced outdoor uses, including road improvements, a pier and boardwalk, improved parking, signalized crosswalks on U.S. 158, a restroom/concession building and a 22,500-square-foot covered outdoor pavilion.

Interim options could be funded at costs ranging from $1.8 to $6.3, depending on which amenities were put in place. In essence, the two interim options can be combined or amenities could be picked from the list a la carte after some fill and road improvements are made.

The old Windmill Point restaurant was burned down for fire training.

However, the board and the public have been most interested in the long-term use of the property.

Heery winnowed down a laundry list of possibilities to three; a multi-use building, a conference center with hotel, and a multi-use facility with hotel.

Rejected as long-term uses were options focused solely on outdoor use, such as a large amphitheater or temporary festivals and events.

Of the three final options, Heery is recommending that the county’s ultimate use of the land should be a conference center/hotel combination.

This option would yield the highest return on investment for both public and private funding, with public and private sector entities splitting a total investment of $37 million.

By contrast, a multiuse use building standalone would require $38 million of public-sector investment with no private funding, while the multi-use/hotel combo would require $72 million to develop, with the public sector absorbing a whopping $53.5 million of the cost.

Heery’s 134-page report was comprehensive. The firm surveyed numerous state, regional and national organizations to gauge interest in potential conferences coming to the Outer Banks.

Heery found several local groups that could benefit from a multi-use center, including the Outer Banks Homebuilders Association “Expo,” the Nags Head Surf Fishing Club’s annual tournament and various wedding association events.

But many of these uses could be worked into the conference center/hotel option, and surveys revealed a much larger universe of interested parties, especially among professional and trade association groups.

While driving distance to the Outer Banks was the largest objection to potential conference attendees, the lack of meeting facilities and a modern full-service hotel ranked second and third among the negatives. Lack of air access was fourth, cited by just over 40 percent of those surveyed.

Sixty percent of the businesses and groups surveyed said they would definitely (25 percent) or were highly likely (35 percent) to book a conference at the Outer Banks if there was a conference center/hotel combination in the area.

The long-term use of the property was not discussed at length during the board meeting. Instead, most discussion was centered on which interim routes should be adopted by the board.

The site hosted a carnival for Nags Head’s 50th birthday.

The entire board agreed with Heery’s recommendation that some interim improvements and use of the land be undertaken to improve public perception of the site’s potential as well as to demonstrate a level of progress on the long-dormant site.

In 2011, Nags Head held a successful carnival on the property. This year, Outer Banks Catch and other local groups are planning the first Outer Banks Seafood Festival in October.

The board split into two almost even camps on what the next astep would be. Several members, worried about increasing environmental pressure after the November elections, wanted to spend about $2 million now to obtain permits and apply fill before regulations change.

The other camp favored the limited-fill option with parking and road improvements to accommodate more outdoor events within the next two years.

The board asked engineer John DeLucia of Albemarle Engineering to look into fill and other costs and report back. Both DeLucia and local architect Ben Cahoon have been heavily involved in the planning for the parcel.

Two views of a hotel-convention center:


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