By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on August 2, 2021
After years of exploring potential development options at the Soundside Event Site in Nags Head, the Dare County Board of Commissioners at its Aug. 2 meeting unanimously threw its support behind the concept of a $17.6 million, 48,000-square-foot event center. The board’s green light follows last month’s endorsement of the project by the Dare County Tourism Board and its Event Site Advisory Committee.
The conceptual plan includes a 48,000-square-foot center that consists of a 26,000 square-foot event hall, a 1,500 square-foot meeting room and a 2,800-square foot catering and learning kitchen. The building, which is projected to be 45 feet in height, would be roughly the same size square footage as the Publix market when completed.
“The Event Center is an enormous project and getting it built has required and will require an extensive process,” Outer Banks Visitors Bureau Executive Director Lee Nettles told the commissioners at the meeting. “Think of it as a boulder. It only gets moved forward if all of us – the Tourism Board, the county, the Town of Nags Head and the community at large are all pushing the same boulder and in the same direction.”
The plan still has several hurdles to clear as it becomes more concrete — including requiring the Nags Head Board of Commissioners to approve amendments or variances to its zoning ordinance related to height limits and parking. It will also require state permits related to wastewater.
“The advisory committee looked at different sports and what could fit in that space,” Nettles said. “It could accommodate three basketball courts or one court with retractable bleachers for spectators in the championship-style format. Realistically though, the size and space that we have is more likely to appeal to the smaller footprint sports like pickleball, wrestling, gymnastics, cheerleading.”
Nettles said tourism officials see the space as an extension of the facilities currently available through the Dare County Parks and Recreation Department.
“The additional recreation space gives locals and visitors more opportunities than currently exist,” he noted while acknowledging that the center will not compete with dedicated sports facilities that are in other markets, which, he added, are typically three times the size of what’s being proposed at the site.
When it comes to concerts banquets, trade shows, Nettles said the event center will be able to host groups of between 300 and 2,500 people. “This facility has the potential to attract national concerts to our area throughout the year,” he asserted.
“You probably noticed that I haven’t called this this building a convention center,” Nettles added. “We’re realistic about the limitations of the site and our market. We aren’t Virginia Beach, we aren’t Myrtle Beach, and we don’t want to be.” He added that popular events like Taste of the Beach and the Wedding Expo have outgrown the site’s existing spaces. Other groups, like the Outer Banks Homebuilders, haven’t been able to host their events because the facilities can’t handle it.
The Tourism Board and Advisory Board did not support a hotel on the site for a number of reasons, he explained, including the Outer Banks Hotel and Motel Association’s opposition to it. He also said a hotel on the site would represent 80 percent of the wastewater capacity, would reduce the event lawn area and would struggle with being on the west side of U.S. 158. He also said a private investor would likely expect some type of public subsidy.
At the conclusion of Nettles’ presentation, a number of commissioners extended kudos to Nettles and his team for the concept.
“I’ve been sensitive to the public perception of this,” said Commissioner Danny Couch. “And the public, based on what I’m seeing, is not going to be for anything large. I think this is manageable. I’m liking what I’m seeing.”
“I think it’s a good visionary plan,” added Commissioner Ervin Bateman. “But we have to have complete cooperation from the Town of Nags Head in order to make all those things happen. I think they’ll be very cooperative. And that’s exciting.”