LUMBERTON — Steve Troxler, the state commissioner of agriculture, envisions great things happening at the new multi-purpose pavilion he officially opened at the Southeastern N.C. Agricultural Center on Tuesday.
“There were times when the plug could have been pulled on this project, but we kept going on to make this become a reality,” he said.
Troxler was joined at the grand opening by local, county and state officials, as well as Robeson County residents who have have been working for more than two decades to establish a local world-class facility capable of providing for equestrian and livestock events. Such a facility has long been promoted as one that will boost the local economy.
“If we continue to move forward, this will be a huge economic engine for Southeastern North Carolina,” Troxler said. ‘This is just the beginning.”
The 55,000-square-foot pavilion will not only provide for equestrian and other livestock shows, but is capable of being used for everything from family reunions and weddings, to concerts, trade shows and other events. According to the commissioner, the facility represents a $5 million investment in the community.
“That investment is going to pay off day after day,”’ he said.
During his remarks Tuesday, Troxler praised the local and state partnerships that came together to make the project a reality. He made no mention of occasional disagreements between those groups over what kind of facility would best serve the interests of those in Robeson and surrounding counties.
“Since I’ve been commissioner, I’ve never been involved in a project at the Department of Agriculture where there has been so much local support,” he said. “But it is going to take continued support to be successful. You’ve got to spread the word for people to use this (pavilion).”
Speaker after speaker praised the results of the project that began moving toward reality in 2008 with a $3.7 million allotment from the state General Assembly. The state Golden LEAF Foundation chipped in with a $1.2 million grant.
“The people of Robeson County and Lumberton believe that this (pavilion) is the best way to transform the economy,” said Dan Gerlach, Golden LEAF president. “If we didn’t invest in this, we would have been fools.”
State Sen. Michael Walters told the crowd that the pavilion will help make the agricultural center and farmers market a “tourist destination.”
“What better place than the intersection of Interstates 74 and 95 is there for a world-class facility like this that we can call our own?” Walters said.
State Rep. G.L. Pridgen said: “This is our field of dreams.”
Lumberton Mayor Ray Pennington voiced the city’s intent to continue supporting growth of the pavilion. Both Lumberton and Robeson County officials are providing $50,000 as a match for a request to the Golden LEAF Foundation for additional funds to build stalls at the site.
“We’ve got the hotel rooms for the owners,” Pennington said. “Now we need the stalls for the horses.”
Paul Brooks, chairman of the Lumbee Tribe and a member of the Golden LEAF board, told those at the ceremony that on May 4 the pavilion will be the site of the largest pow wow east of the Mississippi River.
“The Lumbee Tribe is committed to making Robeson, Scotland, Hoke and Cumberland counties the richest community there ever was in North Carolina,” he said.
Although the official opening of the pavilion was Tuesday, last Friday and Saturday there was a horse show at the site sponsored by the Borderbelt Horseman’s Association.
“The show went well,” Cecil Jackson, the association’s vice president said.
Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or firstname.lastname@example.org.