By Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice on November 4, 2019
After a discussion that occasionally grew a bit edgy, the Dare County Board of Commissioners on Nov. 4 unanimously approved the Dare County Tourism Board’s $3.1 million acquisition of Pamlico Jack’s Restaurant as part of an expansion plan for the Soundside Event Site in Nags Head.
Several weeks ago, at its Oct. 17 meeting, the Tourism Board confirmed the purchase of the seafood restaurant owned by Mike Kelly through its long-term restricted fund. At the Nov. 4 commissioners’ meeting, Visitors Bureau Executive Director Lee Nettles said the Pamlico Jack’s purchase “will add to available parking for current events and provide immediate outdoor space for events” and “will also allow us the opportunity to give full consideration to the consultant’s recommendation of developing a large indoor event venue for the Outer Banks.”
Back in July, the Tourism Board heard a presentation delivered by Johnson Consulting President Charles Johnson that included three options for further developing the Soundside Event Site. All three of those options included an event center. Two of them also included a hotel.
Before the discussions with the county commissioners at the Nov. 4 meeting, a concern was raised about those plans during the public comment period when speaker Charlie Parker questioned some numbers in the consultant’s proposal, such as projections that the revamped site could host well over 100 events a year and would also run an operating deficit.
Asking for broader citizen input, Parker added: ‘’I wonder if these presentations have forgotten one thing — what do the people of Dare County want to happen here?”
In his remarks, Nettles noted that while the site is projected to run annual operating deficit of about $250,000, the “direct spending” revenue as a result of these events would bring in somewhere between $12 to $20 million dollars into the local economy.
During the discussion with the commissioners, the primary skeptic about the Soundside plans was Commissioner Jim Tobin, owner/operator of Pirate’s Cove Yacht Club and Marina, who voiced concerns about a public entity such as the Tourism Board competing with private businesses in the Outer Banks already crowded events industry.
Noting the number of event sites on the Outer Banks that are state or publicly owned, Tobin asked Nettles: “Do you feel these government agencies should be competing with the private sector?”
Noting the consultant’s recommendation that the multi-purpose event venue on the site be 30,000 square feet, Commissioner Steve House observed, “it’s a large building.”
Nettles responded that “it’s the tradeoff of maximizing the opportunity, but at the same time, we don’t want anything we put out there to be unsuccessful.”
In response to questions, Nettles also noted that “the final scope and size” of an event center have not been determined and that there haven’t been discussions at this point of expanding the site further north.
Several of the commissioners also offered support for the Tourism Board and the Soundside project.
Dare Board of Commissioners Vice-chair and Tourism Board Chair Wally Overman, said the effort to expand and develop the site “has been done methodically with a great deal of thought put into it.”
Commissioner Ervin Bateman said that a facility that would bring off-season events to Dare County “can be beneficial. That’s the long-range implications of what I’m looking at.” And Commissioner Danny Couch added that, “the Tourism Board has spent a lot of years building our brand. It is built.”
For his part, Tobin asserted that, “I’m not really opposed to getting that [Pamlico Jack’s] land. The problem is, we haven’t seen your site plan,” he added, asking Nettles to bring more information to the board of commissioners. “I want to see all the numbers.”
In an interview after the discussion had ended, Nettles told the Voice that an eight-person advisory board, that will hold its first meeting on Dec. 3, will be given the task of focusing on the future of the Soundside site and the event center.
The members of that board include Nettles; Tourism Board Member and Chamber of Commerce Board Member Myra Ladd-Bone; Nags Head Commissioner and Tourism Board Member Webb Fuller; Dare County Commissioner Rob Ross; Hotel/Motel Association representative Tonia Cohen; Nags Head Mayor and architect Ben Cahoon; longtime Outer Banks civic leader and former Tourism Board Chair Ralph Buxton; and event host and Bearded Face Productions owner Mike Dianna.
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