SANFORD - It has been 25 years since the opening of the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center, which annually hosts close to 1,000 events and provides a positive economic impact of over $750,000 annually for the region.
"The Wicker Civic Center has been utilized as a site for many varied events since its opening -- from church services, pottery shows, arts festivals, quilt shows, concerts, dance recitals, wedding receptions, graduation exercises, economic development conferences, and industrial training meetings," said Julian Philpott, Chairman of the Central Carolina Community College Board of Trustees. "We have events scheduled there every week, and weekends are particularly busy."
The Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center has been the hub of Lee County community life and supported the local economy for 25 years, said current CCCC President Dr. T. Eston Marchant. "With the upcoming expansion and renovations planned for the Civic Center, Central Carolina Community College is proud that the facility will continue to serve future generations as a focal point for the college and community," said Dr. Marchant.
The Civic Center, located at the intersection of Nash Street and Kelly Drive, was a dream for many years before becoming reality. It was in the 1960s when the Lee County Recreation Foundation was formed with the purpose of building a civic center. Sam Bass was chairman of the Foundation, with other dedicated Sanfordians involved. While a civic center was not to come to fruitition at that time, the group did raise enough money to purchase the land of which O.T. Sloan Park was constructed.
Some years later, CCCC President Dr. Marvin Joyner remembers a CCCC Trustees' Building and Grounds Committee meeting with Meigs Golden, Hal Siler, and Dennis Wicker when he addressed the needs of the College. There was no place to have graduation. There was no place to assemble the CCCC staff. And there was no place to house the College's Small Business Center.
The 1960s attempt to build a civic center came to the forefront. "We looked at ... if there was a need, why nothing ever happened," said Dr. Joyner. "The conclusion was there was not a significant amount of money made available to stimulate the idea."
Dr. Joyner noted it was later decided to make a concerted effort to try to bring a civic center to life. It was determined that it would take better than $3 million to build such a facility.
In 1987, Rep. Dennis Wicker of Sanford sponsored a bill approved by the N.C. General Assembly to provide $1 million to Lee County for a civic center.
"During my first years in the North Carolina House, the General Assembly provided grants to local organizations. I remembered how the community leaders of Lee County for years had been discussing the need for a civic center in the community. The challenge was how to fund a civic center facility with state dollars," said Wicker. "Someone suggested Central Carolina Community College be the owner of the Civic Center so state funds could be used to build it. Then CCCC President Dr. Marvin Joyner was extremely helpful in coordinating efforts among the College, the community college system, and the General Assembly to channel state money to the College for construction of the Civic Center."
There also was a companion bill instituting a motel occupancy tax to provide additional funding for the construction, later to go toward ongoing maintenance of the facility.
"One other challenge for the construction of the Civic Center was the future maintenance of the building," said Wicker. "The General Assembly passed another proposal, which established a local occupancy (motel/hotel) tax, which provided maintenance funding for the Civic Center. The rationale is that out-of-town guests visiting events at the Civic Center would help pay for its maintenance and upkeep."
In 1988, the Lee County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution providing $2 million for construction of the Civic Center.
A ground-breaking ceremony for the "Community Resource Center" was held on Dec. 6, 1989. Speakers at the event included Dr. Marvin Joyner, CCCC President; Gordon Wicker, Chairman of the Lee County Board of Commissioners; Rex McLeod, Mayor of the City of Sanford; and Hal Siler, Executive Director of the Sanford Chamber of Commerce.
"This Community Resource Center will thrust Sanford and Lee County even further toward the forefront of progressive communities in North Carolina," Lee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Gordon Wicker was quoted as saying in The Sanford Herald.
Among those attending the event were Calvin Howell, Architect, Hayes-Howell Architects, AIA, and Randy Turlington, Project Manager, New South Construction, Inc.
"There was a lot of excitement around because of people's anticipation," said Dr. Joyner.
The new Lee County Civic Center opened on May 6, 1991, for the Small Business Banquet. Two days later, the Small Business Expo was held.
THE EARLY YEARS
The first Civic Center Director was Don Stec, who joined CCCC as Small Business Coordinator in November 1984. He recalls that first Small Business Expo event: "I think local folks got an early glimpse of what the facility could be used for and how it could be an asset to the Central Carolina region," said Stec, who also served as leader of CCCC's Small Business Center. "The first years were spent working out bugs and a lot of trial and error."
Stec had praise for those with whom he worked. "Dr. Marvin Joyner was the best boss in the world. He always showed an interest in the facility cared immensely about what went on at the Center. He was always pro economic development and understood how the Civic Center was an economic development tool for this area," said Stec.
"My secretary, Doris Cupps, was the best. She cared about those renting the facility and those that worked for me as maintenance staff. She took a lot off me as the manager," said Stec. "Monroe Morris was our lead maintenance staffer and understood the mechanics of what it took to set up and break down for events. Many others also worked under Mr. Morris and were vital to the successful day-to-day operation of the Center. We had a great team and it took a team effort to accomplish all that we did each and every day."
In July 1995, the CCCC Board of Trustees voted to name the building for Dennis Wicker.
"I cannot adequately express the emotions I felt when I learned the Civic Center would carry my namesake," said Wicker, who was serving as the state's Lieutenant Governor at that time. "I have tried to live my life worthy of it and to exemplify the virtues which have built up our community."
CIVIC CENTER SEES NEW LEADERS
Jim Felton succeeded Stec as Director of the Civic Center and Small Business Assistance Center on Oct. 1, 1995.
"I truly miss the many wonderful people I had the chance to work beside as we represented the community, College and Civic Center," says Felton, who served until February 2011. "Working in an environment where we had to operate seven days a week, 365 days a year, as we supported hundreds of events big and small and the facility needs for CCCC, our state's fifth-largest community college, kept us busy but we felt as though we were successfully adding value and enhancing the Sanford area's image.
"I thoroughly enjoyed knowing and sharing friendships with each of the staff," said Felton. "Of course, when looking back, I have had the privilege of working with so many positive, upstanding professionals in our community and beyond that the 18 years I spent at the Civic Center and with CCCC were wonderful."
Upon Jim Felton's retirement, David Foster became the Civic Center Director. He had been in hospitality management for more than a decade.
"As a high school student just across the street 25 years ago, I recall watching the Civic Center being built, never imagining 25 years later to be back in Sanford and at its helm," said Foster.
IMPORTANCE TO THE COMMUNITY
Bobby Powell, who served on the CCCC Board of Trustees in 1992-93 and since 1996, said the Civic Center has been an asset to the community. "It gave the college and community a place to bring groups and has provided an economic boost to the community," said Powell. "It's been great for the college, county government, city government, schools, the community at large -- everybody has benefited."
Wicker said he hopes Lee County citizens feel that the Civic Center is one of the best investments that has been made in the community. "Think of the events we are able to host there, such as the Pottery Festival, small business fairs, Chamber events, graduations, and other community events, just to name a few," said Wicker. "It is now the fifth largest facility for holding events in the Research Triangle area. In addition, a recent economic impact study confirmed that the Civic Center provided close to $1 million in economic activity for our region. The Civic Center also provides us with a showcase facility where the community can hold large events."
Foster notes that the Civic Center is crucial to the Central Carolina Community College mission. "We are often the front door to the College for the community. You may say most students both start and end with us from the time they register here in spring and fall for classes to graduation events held throughout the year," said Foster. "Also, every week you may find student and staff development events taking place ... not to mention the many free and open to the public seminars and training classes offered through the Small Business Center. We also host all of the Lee Early College events.
"For the Central Carolina region, we host a number of corporate, private and non-profit events every year. From Pfizer to GKN to Moen and Coty, we see a lot of their corporate retreats and gatherings, as well as private intimate gatherings like weddings and quinceaneras," said Foster. "Also, regional draws such as concerts, job fairs, dance and martial arts competitions to arts and crafts shows throughout the year. Many of the area nonprofits from the Salvation Army to the Boys and Girls Club to the Lee County Partnership for Children and the Breadbasket hold annual gatherings and fundraisers here. The positive economic impact is over $750,000 annually for the region."
Thanks to the citizens of Lee County, a bond vote passed in November 2014 that will allow for an addition and renovation of the Civic Center.
"We appreciate the fact that the citizens of Lee County recognized the importance of the Civic Center to Sanford, Lee County, and CCCC when the voters overwhelmingly approved the bond package in the last couple of years that included funding for expansion and renovation of the Civic Center," said Philpott. "The expansion of and renovations to the Civic Center will offer increased opportunities to secure more multi-day events as well as having multiple groups or organizations utilizing the facility on the same day. Our hope is that this expansion and increased utilization opportunities for the Civic Center will also result in more hotels, restaurants, and other businesses locating in Sanford and Lee County. This would not have been possible without the public's strong support of the College and its understanding of the Civic Center's importance to the community as it moves into its next 25 years of serving Lee County citizens and the people who visit here."
The 9,600-square-foot expansion will include three breakout rooms, a large open Gallery space for vendor set-up, and an 1,800-square-foot commercial kitchen classroom for the Culinary Arts Department.
"Everything that's coming and being renovated are things our clients are telling us they want to see to make their events here more viable to what their needs are. So there is a big emphasis on meeting space improvements and technology updates coming with the addition and current existing space," said Foster. "Certainly another bright spot is the Culinary Arts academy that will be housed here in the new addition, teaching and training some of the College's future bright minds that will soon enter the hospitality industry.
"Going through our archives of articles that span even before the center was open, recently I read an article from over 25 years ago when the center first opened and a quote from Lt. Gov. Wicker was the hope was that the Civic Center will be a great and viable asset to the community for the next 25 years. It certainly has been that. And with upgrades, expansion, and improvements on the way, we hope to continue that for another 25 years," said Foster.
Wicker notes that he experiences a sense of pride and gratitude every time he passes by the Civic Center. "Pride in our political and civic leaders to work together to build a nationally awarded building for the betterment of our community. Gratitude in that I live in a community where our leaders understood that investments in infrastructure, such as a civic center, enhances the quality of life for all our citizens and future generations living in Lee County," said Wicker. "I view it as one of the many reasons Lee County is a special place to live, work, and raise our families."
For more information on the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center, visit the website at www.dawcc.com or call 919-776-0345.
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