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Bill Kirby Jr.: Now the question is where will the multi-purpose event center be built

Downtown and the Interstate-295 Outer Loop are among the potential sites as a newly-hired county project agent explores the possibilities for a location.


Editor's Note: This story has been corrected. Jimmy Keefe is a member of the board's Multi-Purpose Event Center Committee, not its chairman.

Larry Lancaster had the question on his mind that got to the point.

When will a multi-purpose event center become a reality?

Lancaster joined with fellow members of the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners Monday in approving an $82.5 million resolution of intent as part of a capital project budget ordinance for the construction of a facility that will serve as a cultural, entertainment and general event venue.

The unanimous decision by Glenn Adams, Toni Stewart, Jeannette Council, Charles Evans, Michael Boose, Jimmy Keefe and Lancaster will replace the 4,500-seat arena and 2,400-seat theater at the Crown Complex.

Commissioners also approved $2.5 million as part of the $82.5 million for MBP Carolinas Inc. to represent the county as its agent to oversee the project, including hiring a general contractor, selecting an architectural design team and securing a site for the center.

“This is moving forward,” Evans told the board. “And I am so pleased. I am. Just like everybody else, right?”

Adams, the board chairman, was in agreement.

“That’s correct,” Adams said.

What unfolded Monday is the result of a $125,000 marketing analysis in 2021 by Conventions, Sports and Leisure that was paid for by Spectra Venue Management which manages the Crown Complex for the county. The study’s recommendation was to build an 89,000-square-foot multi-purpose venue with a maximum capacity of 2,500 to 3,000 people.

And also the result of an aging arena that in 1976 saw Elvis Presley perform for three nights and an adjacent theater that has seen the likes of entertainers from Olivia Newton-John and Tony Bennett to the late Glen Campbell, Natalie Cole and Kenny Rogers, among other notables since the theater opened in 1968.

“Our community can support it, and the main thing is that our community deserves this,” Keefe said after hearing about the marketing analysis recommendation. “This can be done, and now’s the time we get moving.”

Keefe said as much Monday.

“It’s a big day for Cumberland County,” said Keefe, who is a member of the board’s Multi-Purpose Event Center Committee.

Monday was a significant day for the community at large and surrounding towns and communities, including Hope Mills, Spring Lake, Fort Bragg, Eastover, Wade and outlying counties, too. Commissioners no longer are talking, as this multi-purpose event center is on the drawing board.

‘Target date is fall of 2025’

But Lancaster wanted to know more from Jermaine Walker, the county engineering and infrastructure director, who told commissioners how MBP Carolinas would be putting the project in motion.

“Can you give us a date,” the commissioner wanted to know about when the multi-purpose event center will become a reality. “When do we go ice-skating, and go downtown and have a good time? A futuristic prediction of sorts? Two years, three years … five years?”

I liked Lancaster’s inquiry.

“Our target date is fall of 2025,” Walker told Lancaster.

Boose didn’t so much like Walker’s target date and wondered why it might take so long to have this center built and ready for the community.

“That's only one breath away from saying spring of 2026,” he said, emphasizing government takes its own good time getting things done.

I liked the point Boose was making.

County Manager Amy Cannon told the commissioner that’s why hiring MBP Carolinas as a project manager can escalate the project process, including the securement of a potential site.


A final thought here.

Apparently, Lancaster wants the multi-purpose event center to be built downtown. So does Evans. Kathy Keefe Jensen, the city mayor pro tem, has said the city would like to be a part of the center, and downtown is her hope, too.

Some of us are not married to downtown.

The I-295 Outer Loop seems so much more appropriate, with far more traffic ingress and egress, and so close to the military base.

That’s for another column, but for now, your thoughts are welcome. In the meantime, the multi-purpose event center appears to be coming our way, and that’s good news for this community.

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961.

Column, Bill Kirby Jr., Cumberland County, multi-purpose event center