LUMBERTON — Long-awaited barns and horse stalls at the Southeastern North Carolina Agricultural Events Center could start to go up as early as next week and an economic ripple could follow quickly.
“The stalls will definitely have an impact. They are being built right next to the pavilion so they are convenient,” said Michael Smith, the agribusiness manager who oversees the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumers Services-owned facility located just outside of Lumberton. “They will help draw more people who when they are here will spend their money in our restaurants, hotels and gas stations.”
Smith said that since opening in April 2012, the pavilion has hosted one-day horse shows. In 2015, he said, there were 37 days when some kind of equine event was held, with an estimated 4,300 horses participating.
Currently, there are temporary stalls on the property, but they are a distance from the pavilion and require horse owners to walk their horses across a paved parking lot to the arena. They are not built with the amenities, such as electricity, needed for overnight housing.
Joseph Locklear, president of Driven Contractors LLC of Maxton, the company overseeing construction of the two 40-foot by 250-foot barns with 50 stalls each, said that vertical construction of the first building should begin the week of July 18. He said both barns could be in place by mid-August.
Kent Yelverton, director of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Property and Construction Division, said that as soon as Driven Contractors finishes its part of the project, electricity will be installed. The original $365.167 contract awarded to Driven did not include electrical installation. Electric can now be installed thanks to a $165,000 appropriation to complete the project included in the recently approved state budget.
“For the size of the buildings that’s a fairly substantial electrical project,” Yelverton said. “But it shouldn’t take too long, probably 30 to 60 days.”
State Department of Agriculture officials and local equine enthusiasts — including members of the Borderbelt Horseman’s Association — point to the Sen. Bob Martin Eastern Agricultural Center in Williamston as an example of a successful equine center that has bolstered a local economy. The Williamston center, which opened in 1998, is another state Department of Agriculture-operated facility and was built in phases like the Lumberton center, according to Durward Taylor, the agribusiness manager overseeing operations in Williamston.
The Williamston center, located on 168 acres just off of U.S. 64, includes six barns that house a total of 456 permanent stalls. The stalls, Taylor said, make it possible for large shows of two to five days to be held. Multi-day shows draw participants from as far away as Oklahoma and all along the East Coast from Nova Scotia to Florida, he said.
In 2016, 42 events that included participation of about 6,000 horses, were held in Williamston, Taylor said. He said a formula derived by the American Quarter Horse Association estimates that the shows injected about $8 million into the region’s economy.
“We’re keeping busy. We’re seeing more people at all of our shows,” Taylor said.
Taylor said that he expects the addition of stalls in Lumberton to help draw larger multi-day shows to Lumberton.
“Lumberton already has a couple of advantages over Williamston,” Taylor said. “There are a lot more hotels in Lumberton than in Williamston and Lumberton is located along the interstate.”
Cecil Jackson, of the Borderbelt Horseman’s Association, said that once the stalls are in place in Lumberton, his organization will no longer have to seek other venues to hold multi-day shows. A show sponsored by the Borderbelt Horseman’s Association and the American Quarter Horse Association is being held from July 29 to July 31 in Williamston.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.