Nags Head leaders cool to conference hotel idea

By on September 6, 2012

Nags Head leaders were less than enthusiastic about the idea of a 175-room hotel and conference center at the old Windmill Point site after hearing a presentation by the head of the county tourism authority.

Lee Nettles, managing director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, told the Board of Commissioners Wednesday that uses of the site would come in steps, starting with outdoor events such as October’s Outer Banks Seafood Festival.

Nettles outlined five possibilities for the property, which is jointly owned by the town of Nags Head and the Dare County Tourism Board. The tourism board is the governing body of the Visitors Bureau.

Possibilities range from open space with a small building to help manage outdoor events to a hotel and conference center, which would be many years in the future.

“Each one of them has its own pros and cons,” Nettles said.

The 14 acres of prime sound-front real estate was originally purchased with the idea of building a multi-use center. Several local events, such as Taste of the Beach and the Outer Banks Marathon, have outgrown available facilities, Nettles said.

Members of the tourism board have reached no consensus on the property’s future, Nettles said. They have yet to even decide on the basic groundwork — whether to put fill down on part of the land to enhance outdoor uses or on the whole property in preparation for future construction.

Potential for the highest financial return, according to a study by Heery International, lies with a 175-room, 60-foot-tall hotel and conference center. At the same time, the study noted, the Outer Banks does not have all of the components to compete for conventions with areas like Myrtle Beach.

Instead, Nettles said, the Heery study found that demand would be for smaller gatherings such as business and association meetings that include overnight stays.

“This audience has an expectation of a hotel, having a hotel, and even beyond that, many of them expect to have a full-service hotel, something that the Outer Banks doesn’t really have,” he said. “The Sanderling is our closest candidate for that segment.”

Between the two ends of the spectrum would be some sort of pavilion or a multi-use facility without a hotel.

Mayor Bob Oakes called the results of the Heery study not unexpected because the firm’s work includes developing public facilities.

“To use the occupancy taxes that we’ve collected from hotels and rental homes to a large extent and build another hotel with it just doesn’t make any sense to me,” Oakes said.

“To build on that piece of property and cover up the green space, I think there’s potential for building a huge white elephant there and missing out on a use that would benefit the whole community and the shoulder season. And that’s the outdoor festival use.”

Commissioner Susie Walters cited quality of life and sense of community. She said that the seafood festival is already drawing overnight bookings and provides an opportunity to showcase local restaurants and the area’s heritage.

“This site is centrally located, and it’s a very large, beautiful site with unparalleled sunsets,” she said. “I, too, from a personal standpoint would not want to see a big old paved parking lot and a large conference center.”

Commissioner Anna Sadler, who is also a member of the tourism board, said that an amphitheater and boardwalk are also envisioned. She noted that Heery’s concept of a hotel and conference center position it to maintain a vista of the sound.

“Will it ever get to a conference hotel? Probably all of us will be replaced on the board,” she said. “So you and Bob are on the mark as far as the members that I’ve talked to there at the tourism board meetings.”

Nettles said development might not go beyond the first two options — the small building or a pavilion.

“There’s no requirement that you continue developing,” he said. “So I think there’s some comfort in that, that there’s an opportunity to grow organically.”

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