Local leaders hope the Maxwell Center, opening this month in Wayne County, will attract regional conferences and trade-group gatherings.
By Spencer Campbell
For years, the people and politicians of Wayne County had been clamoring for a venue that would bring out-of-towners to their agricultural community. Now that they have it, all that’s required is to actually fill it — a feat that’s proving more difficult than imagined.
This month, the $21 million Maxwell Regional Agricultural and Convention Center will open in Goldsboro. Paid for in part by $12 million from local bonds, the 66,000-square-foot facility serves as a convention center and local headquarters for N.C. State University and U.S. Department of Agriculture extension services. “There’s nothing like this between Raleigh and Greenville for people to come and gather,” Wayne County Manager Craig Honeycutt says. “It’s necessary for our community to grow.”
The Maxwell Center has booked weddings and family reunions and will host Wayne Community College’s graduation service.
But county leaders are chasing larger game — namely, regional events such as conferences of trade groups like the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners. The problem? Larger exhibitors require a convention-center hotel, and so far the county and Goldsboro have been unable to secure one.
As part of the deal to locate the Maxwell Center in Goldsboro, the city gifted the county $2.5 million in land — 16 acres of the site’s 18 total — on which to build the facility. For five years (the agreement ends March 2020), the city must try to lure a hotel. If no hotel is built, the land eventually reverts to Goldsboro’s possession. So far, no hotel operators have committed to Goldsboro.
“It’s sort of a chicken-and-egg thing,” Honeycutt says. “Hoteliers said they needed to see a convention center. Then they said they needed to see the bookings.”
A typical, 100-bed hotel costs $10 million to build. An upscale, 150-bed hotel with amenities such as a bar area runs from $15 million to $20 million. Goldsboro and Wayne County want the latter, but the city’s average room rates don’t support such an outlay. If a hotelier were willing to invest $10 million, City Manager Scott Stevens maintains the city and county would consider covering the rest of the expense.
Wayne County ranks fourth in the state in agricultural income, based on 2016 receipts. Major employers include poultry processor Case Farms, Mt. Olive Pickle and Goldsboro Milling, the turkey and pig producer owned by the Maxwell family that gave $750,000 for the center’s naming rights. Aside from agriculture, the county is best known as home to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, which has more than 5,500 active-duty personnel and civilians.
“We have a unique niche that not a lot of people have in North Carolina,” Honeycutt says. “It was a leap of faith for the people of this community.”
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