Overview — For over a decade, citizens of Wythe County have desired an agriculturally-themed arena capable of seating thousands of individuals and hosting events ranging from rodeos and livestock shows to concerts, sporting events and regional fairs.
In 2015, this dream took a giant leap toward reality when the Virginia Tobacco Commission awarded Wythe County a $750,000 economic development grant to construct the Appalachian Regional Exposition Center. This award has been complimented by the County of Wythe, which has invested $3 million in making the exposition center a reality, as well as private contributions made by local citizens, the Virginia Farm Bureau and dozens of community organizations and businesses.
The Facility — Presently, over 90 acres of land has been purchased on the southside of I-81 at Exit 77 and the organization is moving forwarded in developing the property — development will include construction of the Commonwealth’s premier civic center west of Roanoke, providing +3,000 permanent seats and an additional 2,000 portable chairs for concerts and other entertainment events.
In addition to a 200′ x 300′ arena, which will be used for a myriad of activities, including livestock shows, rodeos, indoor soccer events, travel shows, motocross, concerts and dozens of other regional and national events, the Appalachian Regional Exposition Center will also include outdoor multipurpose athletic fields, an outdoor horse ring, classroom & training facilities and office space.
Why does this region need an Exposition Center? With no exposition center operating in the heart of Southwest Virginia, residents of the region routinely travel to Freedom Hall Civic Center in Tennessee, Triad Civic Center in North Carolina, the Charleston Civic Center in West Virginia or other facilities located outside of the region for entertainment, shows and conferences.
With the only option for residents of Virginia’s panhandle to attend concerts, host large-scale events, etc. being out of state or outside of the region, several studies, including one by Virginia Tech’s Office of Economic Development, have concluded that Wythe County’s location makes it “a prime geographic location in the region” for such a facility.
This same study stated, “The idea also fits with the plans of the region. There is an agricultural and tourism focus in the region, but there is no facility to showcase the products of the region.”
Who Supports this Facility? Letters of support have been penned by the following individuals, officials, community organizations and businesses:
United States Congressman Morgan Griffith
Delegate Jeff Campbell
The County of Bland
The County of Grayson
Town of Rural Retreat
Town of Wytheville
Wytheville-Wythe-Bland Chamber of Commerce
Wythe County Tourism Advisory Committee
First Bank of Virginia
Southwest Virginia Angus Association
Wythe County Department of Emergency Management
What will be the benefits of this facility? With a long and rich history centered around agriculture and mining, Wythe County has been in the process of diversifying and stabilizing its local economy for many years. The proposed exposition center will provide classroom and training facilities which will help the residents of Southwest Virginia compete in a “global” and “knowledge-based” economy.
Additionally, the proposed center will accelerate regional transformation and establish Virginia’s western district as a tourism destination, as opposed to being merely “gas and go” stop. This transformation will benefit local residents by creating jobs, easing the local tax burden, and enhancing the overall prosperity of the region.
The Appalachian Regional Exposition Center personifies the Appalachian region’s culture of self-reliance and strong work ethic: a citizen-initiated project aimed at creating economic prosperity for the entire region.
According to a Weldon Cooper Center for Economic & Policy Studies report, published in June 2014, the center will create $3.173 million in additional spending by year five — this spending will be dispersed throughout the region and multiplied several times over, thus stimulating the local economies of more than eleven Southwest Virginia localities.
Last December, Gov. Terry McAuliffe unveiled his economic plan for Virginia, entitled, “New Virginia Economy.” The publication recognized the importance of tourism spending, acknowledging that +$59 million are spent each day by domestic travelers, making the tourism industry the fifth largest private employer in Virginia. The report went on to state, “With $2.8 billion in tax revenue for federal, state, and local governments, increasing tourism is a top priority for Virginia.”
Locally, Wythe County has long been working toward a civic center-type facility and has included an exposition center in its comprehensive plan. Events held at the center will serve to create critical revenue streams for the Commonwealth and the region during a time when federal and state governments are asking localities to take a greater role in funding various programs.
Location, Location, Location! The exposition center will be within feet of the intersections of Interstates 81 and 77 at Exit 77. With the two interstates crisscrossing the heart of Southwest Virginia, each day more than +80,000 vehicles will pass by the facility, offering over 29 million yearly views of the center.
The greatest selling point of the Appalachian Regional Exposition Center is its location! Located midway between Roanoke and Bristol; Charleston, West Virginia, and Charlotte, North Carolina; and the Florida-line and Canadian border, the exposition center will be within a day’s drive of half the American population and serve as the region’s premier entertainment venue.
Though never referred to as such, Southwest Virginia acts as Virginia’s pan-handle and unlike other portions of the Commonwealth, residents of this region are never more than forty-five minutes from the borders of at least two other states. Due to the ease with which residents can cross state lines, in recent years much of the disposable incomes of local residents has been spent in neighboring states. The creation of an exposition center in the heart of the Commonwealth’s panhandle will reverse this trend and cause an influx of disposable incomes from four neighboring states (West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina). The proposed center will be strategically located within a tank of gas of millions of Americans.