Consultant offers map for change at Agricenter

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Lee County’s ailing Agricenter could transform from money pit to cash cow if it undergoes a series of sweeping changes advised by an outside consultant.
Among the chief recommendations by North Carolina-based agricenter expert Matt Buchanan are to clean and repair the 151,000-square-foot facility and to revive its claim on the regional fair.
“With vision, hard work, internal support and proper management,” the consultant wrote in his 25-page report, “I feel the Lee County AgriCenter would quickly move from a liability to an asset … .”
Buchanan’s assessment was presented Monday to the Board of Supervisors, which hired the consultant in November for roughly $2,800.
Members seemed pleased with the report, saying the facility wouldn’t have become such a financial albatross had the recommendations been implemented years ago.
“It’s a comprehensive report, and it says a lot of the same things we’ve thought needed to take place,” said District 2 Supervisor Bobby Smith.
The AgriCenter’s newly hired director Julia Viator, said the report’s findings and suggestions mirror many of her own ideas since coming on board one month ago.
“A lot of what I want to do goes hand in hand with what the report recommends,” she said.
Built in the mid-1990s, the center has never been a profitable venture for the county, which owns and funds it. District 1 Supervisor Phil Morgan said the facility was never meant to turn a big profit but should have been self-sustaining.
Instead, it needs a steady flow of cash from the county: Supervisors authorized $250,000 for the center in 2007, a year in which it brought in only $83,000. Revenues came from various events and services – RV rentals, horse shows, monster truck events, weddings and meetings.
The facility typically makes about $100,000 annually, said Tammy Rodgers, who served as the center’s interim director for about nine months. But it didn’t host a fair that year, which usually generates about $30,000.
Several issues led to the fair’s disappearance, among them contractual disagreements and money.
“I believe building the Lee County Regional Fair to its fullest potential is the key factor in making the Lee County AgriCenter stand apart and rise above any other facility of its kind in Mississippi,” wrote Buchanan, who didn’t attend Monday’s meeting.
Instead, the report was presented by Greg Giachelli, Vice President of Small Business Development and Entrepreneurship for the Community Development Foundation. Giachelli said he met several times with Buchanan during the course of the study.
The report “validates a lot of the things we’ve been talking about for two or three years,” Giachelli said.
Buchanan also recommended the county revamp the facility’s website, upgrade its amenities, reorganize staff, increase publicity, partner with Mississippi State University’s Lee County Extension Service,
If the county follows his recommendations, Buchanan estimated the facility would make a $175,000 profit by the end of the next fiscal year.
Supervisors accepted the report but hadn’t yet read it and therefore didn’t immediately implement any of its recommendations. They did, however, vote to allow Viator the ability to book concerts – previously prohibited at the facility – and to reduce horse stall rates from $15 to $10.

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.