By Lucy Papachristou | Outer Banks Voice on December 4, 2019
Members of the Dare County Tourism Board’s Event Center Advisory Committee held their inaugural meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 3 to discuss potential plans for the future development of the Soundside Event Site in Nags Head.
The meeting came six weeks after the Tourism Board greenlighted the $3.1 million purchase of popular local restaurant Pamlico Jack’s, adjoining the Soundside property, as part of the site’s expansion efforts. The existing event site, which hosts such popular events as the Outer Banks Seafood Festival, is largely regarded as underutilized.
The eight-member committee includes Lee Nettles, the executive director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau; Myra Ladd-Bone, Tourism Board and Chamber of Commerce Board member; 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.
Tuesday’s two-hour meeting saw some occasional tension as members debated the feasibility of the project given restrictive Nags Head town ordinances.
There are currently three proposed options under review by the committee that had been presented to the Tourism Board by a consultant. All three proposals include a 30,000 square foot event venue, and two of them propose a 200-room hotel and 5,400-square-foot ballroom. Only the third option utilizes the Pamlico Jack’s property as part of the hotel or for parking.
The Tourism Board hopes the development of the site will help develop a “year-round tourism economy that enhances the quality of life” for local residents by “emphasizing less-than-peak season visitation,” but without “unduly competing with local businesses,” Nettles said. “The challenge now,” he continued, “is to figure out how to connect all the property.”
The committee discussed short- and long-term uses of the site, the former of which involved using Pamlico Jack’s as a temporary event space, as the property already has parking and septic.
Long-term goals discussed included pursuing development partners (such as retail businesses), conducting an engineering survey to begin to plan septic fields, and writing up a comprehensive financial plan.
Things took a bit of a turn halfway through the meeting when Cahoon and Fuller both voiced strong concerns over the proposed event center’s compliance with Nags Head ordinances. “I don’t want to go for our long vision without doing our due diligence,” Fuller said.
A major concern for several committee members was the First Flight Adventure Park, a rope course that lies on the same property as the now-closed Dairy Queen. The Adventure Park renewed its five-year lease last year and has the option to renew it again twice. Fuller, in particular, was worried the business could “effectively divide” the property and interfere with the proposed hotel and event center.
For his part, Nettles said he “doesn’t see [the rope course] as insurmountable,” and pointed out that the course itself is over wetlands, where buildings cannot be erected.
Some committee members also tried to take a step back and re-imagine the site.
“We need to think about this as a blank canvas,” Ladd-Bone said. “We have to pretend nothing is on the property, then ask, ‘What are we going to do with this?’ and then work around our limitations.”
Commissioner Ross agreed, saying the group needed to focus on the long-term vision. “This has the potential to be the crown jewel of Dare County,” he said.
Nettles acknowledged potential difficulties, but also pointed out that such a multi-use space was unprecedented in Nags Head, and perhaps in Dare County. There is no blueprint for the committee to follow, he said.
Following the discussion of ordinances, the committee agreed to commission an engineering survey of the property to get a better sense of the restrictions related to the site in areas such as septic and parking. They then adjourned until January or early February to give time for the survey to be completed.