By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Lee County could generate an estimated $92,000 annually for its cash-strapped Agri-Center with a plan to sell ad space on a refurbished sign outside the sprawling complex.
The concept, proposed by a committee of volunteer citizens tasked with saving the county-owned facility, got approval this month by the Lee County Board of Supervisors. Its members voted to seek bids for the sign’s renovation, which will cost an estimated $60,000 to $70,000.
It could award a contract for the project by late August or early September, said County Administrator Sean Thompson.
“I know we said we weren’t going to put a lot of money into this, but to make it operational, we need to do something,” said District 4 Supervisor Tommie Lee Ivy. “I say just go ahead and do it.”
The committee was appointed in April to study the facility and make recommendations to keep it open and financially solvent. Committee Chairman Stuart Johnson told supervisors the sign proposal is a quick way to begin collecting revenues but that a comprehensive plan on the Agri-Center’s future is forthcoming.
According to the proposal, the sign’s existing lighted display will be replaced with a computer-compatible LED screen capable of displaying hundreds of ads per day.
The two stationary panels below will be replaced with four, conventional lighted panels featuring the logos of corporate sponsors.
The Agri-Center’s future director would sell ad space at a proposed rate of $5,000 per year for the stationary signs and $300 per month for the LED ads. Each comes with contractual obligations to advertise for a minimum period of time.
If all the space sold, the county would generate an annual total of $20,000 from the four panels and $72,000 from the LED ads, according to the committee’s proposal.
The Agri-Center has been without a director since last year’s resignation of Julia Viator. Thompson has acted as the interim director but doesn’t handle daily operations at the facility, located on Highway 145 in Verona.
It’s unclear when a new director will come on board, and the county has made no move to hire one.
Built nearly two decades ago, the 150,000-square-foot facility has hosted rodeos, concerts, weddings, truck shows and carnivals.
But it never has been profitable. According to Thompson, the Agri-Center earned $115,165 in revenues during the previous fiscal year but needed $161,560 from Lee County to stay afloat.