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Gates County explores Family Fun Center funding

GATESVILLE – Paperwork has been submitted to a pair of funding agencies for the development of the Gates County Family Fun Center.

Following an 80-minute closed session at their recent meeting, the Gates County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to seek a combined $645,500 from the North Carolina Rural Center and the Golden LEAF Foundation to pay for the wastewater infrastructure that will support the project.

That project, submitted by the developer – Dr. Lewis Fisher Jr., proposes to construct a multi-purpose recreational facility on 7.5 acres of land within the Kim Olds complex located off US 158 across from Gates County High School.

Plans for the facility include a bowling alley, movie theater, indoor bumper cars, food court and games arcade. The proposed Family Fun Center is projected to serve not only Gates County citizens, but those in Bertie, Hertford, Chowan, Camden, Pasquotank and Perquimans counties.

Additionally, the bowling alley can support Chowan University who recently added women’s bowling to its list of athletic programs.

The Center will also provide much-needed jobs in the local area as it plans to employ 29 individuals.

But before those plans can move to the next phase, $690,000 was needed for the wastewater infrastructure (sanitary sewer pump station and piping). Gates County is in the process of completely taking over the wastewater treatment facility still in operation at the recently closed Gates Correctional Center. County officials are working on a larger wastewater project that will serve a core area along US 158 from just west of Eleanors Crossroads to just east of Easons Crossroads, including the Kim Olds property. That entire area has been targeted for commercial and residential growth.

For the Family Fun Center wastewater project, Gates County is seeking $310,500 from Golden LEAF and $345,000 from the NC Rural Center. The latter of those two agencies requires a five percent match from the entity applying for the grant. In this case, that match amounts to $34,500 and will be paid by the developer.

Commissioner Carlton Nickens motioned for approval of both grant requests. Board Vice-Chairman Kenneth Jernigan offered a second and the measure passed by a 5-0 vote.

As part of the funding request, the county is requiring the developer to obtain a performance bond.

“Both the Rural Center and Golden LEAF require if they give you a certain amount of dollars, the project in which you are requesting the funds must produce a certain number of jobs,” Gates County Manager Toby Chappell explained.

Chappell added that, technically, Gates County will be the recipient of these grants, if approved.

“Therefore, technically, the county is on the hook to pay this money back if this project does not fulfill the job requirements of the granting agencies,” Chappell said. “Obviously, we do not want to pay back nearly $650,000 if this project does not come to fruition.”

The performance bond acts as an insurance policy for the county.

“If this project does not come to fruition in any shape, form or fashion, the bond kicks in and the money is paid back,” Chappell noted. “We feel confident that the project will succeed, but the board of commissioners are obligated, first and foremost, to protect the citizens of Gates County.”

Chappell stressed that the grants for this project are not being requested for the exclusive benefit of Dr. Fisher.

“Activity breeds activity…this is being done in an effort to attract other businesses to spout their wings or relocate to this area of development,” Chappell concluded. “This project will serve as a magnet for other businesses.”