published Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

$35 million Loudon County, Tenn., agricultural complex on hold

LOUDON — An ambitious proposal to build a multipurpose agricultural exposition and event complex in Loudon County, Tenn. — estimated to cost as much as $35 million — may have to be scaled back.

"With the school building program and the justice center, we have bigger nuts to crack right now," said Commissioner Bob Franke, a member of the steering committee that has been exploring the "ag center" concept since last year.

With more than 2,000 students in the county enrolled in 4-H or similar programs, there is a need for some kind of facility where agriculture and livestock events can be held, Franke said.

According to a feasibility study released last month, the 35-acre complex would be used for horse shows, rodeos and Western-type events in addition to concerts, dog shows, livestock shows, consumer shows, auctions and events such as graduations.

"It's something Loudon County desperately needs," said John Goddard, University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension agent.

Under the plan recently revealed to county commissioners, the site would include an indoor arena with a 150-foot-by-250-foot ring and seating for 3,500 people with heating and air conditioning. Also proposed are covered and outdoor arenas, 6,000 square feet of multiple purpose space, 1,500 square feet of meeting/classroom space, 240 horse stalls, 75 RV camp sites and parking for up to 1,500 vehicles.

A steering committee of several dozen members has been studying the proposal for at least six months. A feasibility study prepared by Knoxville-based Bullock Smith & Partners and Herndon, Va.-based Owens Economics estimated the cost to develop the facility at between $29.2 million and $35.3 million.

The multipurpose agricultural exposition center is projected to attract 242 events covering 293 event days annually.

The report cost $30,000, of which $20,000 came from a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant and the rest from the county and city of Loudon.

Total on-site and off-site consumer expenditures should exceed $13 million per year, the report stated. Loudon County tax receipts are estimated to be $134,400. The state should receive $395,000 in taxes.

Loudon County Mayor Estelle Herron has been a supporter of the project. While she agrees an expenditure in the $30 million range is probably outside the county's budget right now, Herron thinks the ability to solicit state and federal grants could help make the proposal a reality.

"We have to start looking at what grants are available and what we can afford. It's going to be a couple years out," she said.

Goddard said he hopes the county can find a benefactor to donate toward the facility. He said the county should proceed with some sort of facility. The investment, even if scaled back considerably, would be a valuable addition to the education of children in the county through programs such as 4-H, he said.

"We're not just raising livestock; we're raising children," he said.

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