SANFORD — In 2008, the population of Lee County was about 58,000. In that same year, attendance at events at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center totaled more than 100,000.
Many were from out of the area. They stayed at local motels, ate at the restaurants and shopped in the stores, providing sales for local businesses and tax revenue for local government.
“We’re about helping the local economy grow,” said Jim Felton, Center director.
The Civic Center, operated by Central Carolina Community College, is located at the heart of the county, geographically and economically. Felton said it has a three-fold impact on the local economy.
First, it provides a variety of venues for events, including the main exhibition hall that can seat 1,400 people. For this reason, the facility attracts a wide variety of users, such as corporate meetings, trade shows, weddings, family reunions, and major community events. The biggest is the annual Sanford Pottery Festival.
“The Civic Center is a tremendous resource,” said Don Hudson, creator and executive director of the Festival. “There is no way to hold a festival of this sort here without the Civic Center. It’s a great venue.”
The Sanford Pottery Festival is the largest festival of its type in North Carolina, he said. The Civic Center is the only facility in Lee County large enough for it. In 2008, the two-day festival attracted 7,000 visitors, with about 80 percent coming from out of Lee County.
Hudson said that the Pottery Festival must be easily accessible to those coming from out of town and must have adequate parking available. The Civic Center meets those criteria.
He said that no study has yet been done on the economic impact the festival has on the area, but a smaller pottery festival, in Seagrove, is known to generate about $140 per visitor for its community. He noted that, in addition to the general economic impact of the Sanford Pottery Festival, it has raised $120,000 for arts education in Lee County schools since it started in 2001.
The 2009 Sanford Pottery Festival takes place May 2-3 at the Civic Center.
The Parker Family Homecoming Gospel Concert is another major annual event. Every year, for the past 10 years, the concert has played to sold-out audiences, said Danny Parker. Parker, a native of Lee County, is lead singer and manager of the Harvesters Gospel Quartet, which performs during the Homecoming.
About 1,400 people attend the concert each day, he said. Of those, about 1,000 are from out of town. Each night, about 800 stay in local motels and eat at local restaurants and other food services.
“The Parker Family Homecoming Gospel Concert this year filled every motel on the eastern side of Sanford,” said Dennis Woodruff, director of sales for the Hampton Inn, in Sanford.
Lee County provides significant financial support to the center, Felton said. For this support, county and education-related events use the facility without charge, providing a second impact to the local economy.
Third, the meals served with events at the Civic Center have an economic impact. In just fiscal 2008-09, more than 18,000 lunches and dinners, and 8,000 box lunches and continental breakfasts, have been or will be served. According to Felton, that equates to as much as a restaurant would serve in a year. It amounts to more than $200,000 spent on food in the local economy by Center events.
The Civic Center opened in 1991 to benefit the community and it has continued to do so.
“The Civic Center is a vital economic enterprise,” said Richard Hayes, chairman of the Lee County Board of Commissioners. “It’s indispensable for the community. I have high admiration for what it has done, is doing, and will do.”
The Hampton Inn, less than a mile from the Civic Center, was built about 14 years ago, the first motel on the eastern side of Sanford. Woodruff said he feels that the Center was a factor in the motel’s location because it is a large venue that attracts out-of-town people.
“The Civic Center is an important source of business for local motels,” he said. “It gives the community the capability to bring events and activities to Sanford that would otherwise go elsewhere.”
A 74-room Comfort Suites is opening on Bragg Street, not far from the Civic Center. Dipak Patel, general manager, said a primary reason for choosing that site was because of its closeness to the Center. The motel is located between the Center and other motels; is close to restaurants, gas stations and shopping areas; and traffic going to the Civic Center uses Bragg Street.
“The Civic Center brings together the finest elements of the area, from education and cultural arts to business and community engagement,” said Stelfanie Williams, Central Carolina C.C. vice president for Economic and Community Development. “As the region continues to grow, the Center serves a vital role in support of local economic development.”
For more information about the Civic Center, call (919) 776-0345 or go online to www.dawcc.com
. For more information about the Sanford Pottery Festival on May 2-3, go online to www.sanfordpottery.org