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EXPO Center or Not?

The dust is beginning to settle on the proposed EXPO Center project and the view forward is getting bit clearer for all to see. The State Legislature did not approve a recent request from the County Commission to allow for an increase in the Hotel / Motel tax that was the primary source of generating the income necessary to service the debt for this project. Thousands of words have already been written in local papers citing impact studies, casting blame, pointing fingers and even pitting one city in the county against another. So far that has gotten us what? Let’s see what that managed to get us.

From what I can see so far, at this point we ended up with no EXPO Center but plenty of hard feelings and strained relationships. While there was a flurry of last minute grandstanding and misinformation to and from various stakeholders, a couple of things did become obvious. First, as our county continues to grow and prosper, it is going to be imperative that our local leaders find alternative means of fostering unity and developing an understanding of our changing diversity. It would seem to me that securing a broad base of input, support, and enthusiasm on the front end is going to be a lot more productive than trying to get it on the back end. During the often heated debates about the need or desire to pursue an EXPO Center type project, I cannot recall a single person that told me flat-out we did not need some type of venue such as this. There was plenty of back and forth about the size, location, and even design of the building, but the desire to have such a venue seemed to be widespread.

So where did it jump the tracks? In the end it simply became a matter of what was it really going to cost and who was going to pay for it. I have seen many presentations from the architect, county leaders, supporters, as well as detractors of the project. Even when considering how to pay for it, I have not yet seen a hurdle that could not be overcome if everyone will work together. Going forward, if we were to keep an open mind and respect (not necessarily agree by any means) the perspectives of others, I feel confident that even the financial issues can be resolved in order to one day have such a venue in Wilson County. Tax payers deserve and have a right to expect a reasonable return on the taxes they pay. We can save the tax argument of “too high” or “too low” for another time. I think it could be universally agreed upon that we all want our taxes to be “appropriate” for what we want and get. Doing otherwise and we run the risk of either taxing ourselves right out of prosperity or under taxing ourselves right into high crime, depreciating property values, a declining education system, and so on.

We’ve all heard the saying that when you ask the wrong questions you usually get the wrong answers. Perhaps rather than trying to answer the question “how can we at least get a bare bones center that by most indications might be under-sized from day one?”, we might consider asking ourselves ”how can we generate widespread support, pool our resources, greatly enlarge the number of vested stakeholders, and together create a venue that become a tremendous source of community pride?” The path forward starts with open minds, open hearts and one single but very powerful question; “What do YOU think”? I hope you will join me right here next week! Follow Mark on Twitter @MJChamber #mjchamber or Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  and be sure to visit us 24/7 at

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