By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Push for local events center gets re-visited
City Manager Howard: Committee looking at various potential sites throughout the county
liberty logo
The LCEMA meeting will be at the Liberty County Performing Arts Center.

ST. SIMONS ISLAND — A push for an events center in Liberty County may be getting a new start, after the recent Liberty County-wide planning workshop.

The topic has been discussed for several years, Hinesville City Manager Kenny Howard pointed out. A feasibility analysis was conducted for an events center, and the results were positive.

“Although it was eight-plus years ago,” he said, “we still think it is a viable option for our community. We’re more than capable of achieving this. We’ve been waiting on it for a very long time.”

Other members of the study committee also backed the call for a local events center. Leah Poole, chairman and CEO of the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce, said the lack of an events center is a “constant refrain” from Army spouses’ tours.

“It is definitely needed and it will be used,” she said.

Howard told the planning workshop attendees that a deal with an events center provider was close at one point. Local officials met with several vendors and were closing in on a potential deal with Warner Robins-based Rigby Entertainment. Rigby’s Entertainment Complex includes a hotel and a water park.

“He was going to replicate his venue here,” Howard said. “He decided to expand what he had and built two hotels.”

Similar talks were held with the owner of The Clubhouse in Statesboro but they turned their attention eventually to starting a soccer franchise, which this past weekend christened its new stadium.

“It seems like every time we got real, real close, something happened,” Howard said.

Howard said what is envisioned is a 10–15 acre site, something large enough that it does not have to be expanded over the next three to five years. Doing so also could allow for a partnership to add such amenities as a restaurant or a family entertainment center.

Howard pointed out that Rigby Entertainment built a family-oriented facility and discovered other groups and associations wanted to go there too, using it for such functions as team building.

“There could be a lot of commonality and a lot of synergy,” he said. ‘It’s a model we could think about.”

At the March 2020 planning session, the event center was voted as one of three top goals.

“One of the things you asked us to do is look at the work that had been done and see if it was feasible to move forward,” Howard said.

That the countywide planning workshop was being held outside the county was evidence that such a facility is needed in Liberty County, Howard noted.

“Why do we need a conference center? The mere fact that we’re here is an indication that we need a conference center,” he said.

The Hinesville Downtown Development Authority has partnered with Georgia Southern University’s Bureau of Business Research and Economic Development to conduct a study, and the results were favorable for an events center, Howard said.

The study looked at towns adjacent to military bases in Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina, and Liberty County had the second highest per capita income and the second largest presence of military personnel on base.

“There obviously will be a need for meeting space,” Howard said. “The military often has functions where they have to go out of town. Reunions, military reunions, class reunions — these are the things you look at to decide if it is viable to build an event center in your community.”

The military presence has increased since the study was completed, Howard noted.

“The data aligned with what we were looking for,” he said. “If we do this right way, it could be a viable option and it could be successful.”

The committee, Howard added, is looking at multiple sites throughout the county to determine which one will be the most viable.

“You really need to be very strategic in placing the center,” he said.

Howard said an association he works with has a site selection team for its conferences and meetings that looks at where its conferences for the next three years will be.

“One of the things we looked for was the number of hotel rooms they had in these cities and their proximity to where we were meeting, and amenities,” Howard said.

The local events center committee visited Valdosta’s Rainwater Conference Center.

“They have a great model there,” Howard said.

Increasing the hotel- motel tax from 5% to 8% could help identify resources for construction and management. Both Flemington and Liberty County have gone to 8% hotel-motel tax and the city is expected to follow. Hotel-motel tax proceeds often are used to promote tourism and fund tourism product development, such as the building of conference or events centers.

“There are provisions and restrictions in how you can use that funding,” Howard said.

One of the next steps will be to develop a comprehensive plan to include site location, capital budget, operational budget and implementation strategy.

“It will be all encompassing,” Howard said. “It will have the data we need to move forward.”

Howard said a family entertainment center and an events facility could be located next to or near each other. While questions remain, Howard said an events center is important for the community.

“This community is one of the largest communities, if not the only one considered a hub, that does not have a conference center,” he said. “That is, to me, unbelievable. We have meetings all the time. I think our community deserves better. I believe we are on the road where we can get this done.”

Sign up for our e-newsletters