|By Francis X. Gilpin, The Fayetteville
Observer, N.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Nov. 17, 2009--Cumberland County officials approved a nearly $4 million overhaul of the Crown Center arena and theater Monday night as they disclosed a proposal for a four-star hotel nearby.
County commissioners voted 6-0 to approve financing for $3.85 million in repairs that won't tap property taxpayers.
The money for the electrical, plumbing and other improvements to the 42-year-old building that houses the arena and theater would come from federal economic stimulus funds and local food sales taxes.
Commissioner Jimmy Keefe, who had questioned the expenditure in light of dwindling activity at the arena and theater, was absent.
In response to a request from Keefe, Crown officials reported the arena and theater were used for only a combined eight days in the first three months of the current fiscal year. The venues were in use for a combined 104 days all of last year.
Crown General Manager Karen Long told the commissioners that arena and theater bookings should pick up for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends in June.
Long attributed her optimism to the recent hiring of personnel to book Crown shows. Three shows have canceled at the arena or theater in recent months.
Commissioner Breeden Blackwell said the county had no choice but to repair the Crown building.
"The Crown Center has been a real jewel in our community," Blackwell said.
What the Crown has lacked is upscale lodging close by that might entice more convention business.
Assistant County Manager Amy Cannon suggested that could change soon. Cannon told commissioners that a developer is interested in building a four-star hotel and restaurant attached to the Crown Center. The developer, who wasn't identified, wants the county to provide 41/2acres through a long-term lease. The developer also wants county help to erect a bridge between the hotel and Crown Center.
Based on Cannon's presentation, the commissioners decided to seek $30 million in additional stimulus money for the hotel project.
Staff writer Francis X. Gilpin can be reached at email@example.com or 486-3587.
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