Tourism Board sees plan for transforming Event Site

By on July 18, 2019

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At a special July 18 meeting, members of the Dare County Tourism Board and a number of other local officials got a look at what the future could hold for the Soundside Event Site in Nags Head — a large venue that is widely acknowledged to be under-utilized.

The presentation, delivered by Johnson Consulting President Charles Johnson, started with his assertion that “You are a very special market. It’s different.” The redeveloped site, he added, “has to have a multi-purpose character to it, as well as be adaptable…I think the nature of the site calls for innovative design.”

The presentation, which Outer Banks Visitors Bureau Executive Director Lee Nettles characterized after the meeting as “still pretty conceptual,” offered three options for the site.  The centerpiece of each was a large multi-purpose event venue that could host everything from concerts to trade shows to sporting events.

Option one included a 30,000 square foot multi-purpose event venue that would have glass walls on three sides. The second option included the event venue as well as two other major components — a 5,400 square foot ballroom with a capacity for 500 people as well as a hotel. The third option differed from the second option in one significant way. It included the acquisition of the nearby Pamlico Jack’s property to accommodate the hotel and associated parking.

Under the second option, the hotel would consume some of the existing outdoor event space. But the third option, which locates the hotel on the Pamlico Jack’s site, would not diminish the amount of outdoor space.

Calling them “very preliminary cost estimates” Johnson put the price tag for the first option at about $14-$20 million, while the other two options, incorporating the hotel, cost in the range of about $64-$77 million.

Other projections provided by Johnson indicated that the number of indoor and outdoor events that could be held at the revamped event site in its first year ranged from 115 for the first option to about 150 for the scenarios that include the hotel. In each case, meetings and conferences were envisioned as the most common use of the site. Entertainment events and concerts also figured in prominently.

While noting that “we do expect the facility to incur an operating deficit,” the consultant also projected that by its tenth year of operation, the site would add $25 million dollars to the local economy, provide 170 new jobs and produce $1.2 million in tax revenue.

“I think the conclusion is that option C is probably the most strategic [option],” Johnson told the board. But “it is not the end of the earth if you don’t do that.”

In the question-and-answer period that followed the presentation, Johnson may have gotten a sense of some of the challenges such a project would face.

Noting that the presented options did not incorporate the town’s ordinances on such matters as parking, septic and lot coverage, Nags Head Commissioner Webb Fuller warned that “Nags Head is very demanding when it comes to ordinances and regulations…This [proposal] is very broad and it might be beyond what might even be allowed.”

“There will be some give and take,” Johnson responded.

Local businessperson and former State Representative candidate Tess Judge raised the problem of the distance between Dare County and an airport that can handle commercial flights, to which Johnson acknowledged, “you definitely have a liability. People will have to work to get there.” (The Dare County Board of Commissioners recently was presented with a proposal to expand the County Regional Airport by lengthening the primary runway, something that could allow larger planes to land here.)

And Nags Head Mayor Pro Tem Susie Walters cautioned that a busy event site during the prime visitor months could create tensions with local business owners.

“There is a perception” among those owners, she noted, “that every event that takes place in this [event site] location takes away from my location.”

Asked about next steps in the process, Johnson said he might advise the tourism board to create a task force to focus on the event site plan. And when the meeting adjourned, it was clear that the process was closer to the beginning than the end.

“I think it was a thoughtful set of recommendations,” said Lee Nettles. “I thought it was a productive discussion…There’s a lot of work and discussion left to do…The presentation is still pretty conceptual at this point.”

For his part, Dare County Commissioner and Tourism Board Member Wally Overman seemed pretty upbeat about what he had heard.  “I thought we had a good meeting,” he said. While noting that some members had “expressed their concerns,” he also cited their “excitement about finding the full potential” of the site.

“If we increase visitation to Dare County,” he added, “all businesses in Dare County will benefit.”

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MK Smith

What about Roanoke Island Festival Park, I thought that was the outdoor venue that the Outer Banks needed. Why is that not used more frequently? Why develop open space? Why ruin a view? Why not ask the town residents what they want? Oh wait, I know. The almighty dollar.


As a hospitality worker for several years now, our concern should be providing a work force that can handle ” new business.” We can dream big and keep building businesses, but quite frankly..where will we get workers, or house them??? J1 students help us for a few months of the year but as this area grows we are not planning to accommodate a work force to please our tourism industry. Our visitors deserve better!! Our local and semi-local community/workers are being stretched thin to handle the demand..WE DESERVE BETTER!! Obx Tourism Board…help the community find help and housing before adding… Read more »


The tourism board needs to be eliminated. They continue at a rapid pace trying to destroy the area and make it much too dangerous due to overpopulation. If they were actually here to help the area than they would promote the other three seasons that are much better than summer.

Windy Bill

3 hours Norfolk to Manteo is SOLELY due to the selfishness of Southern Shores! Blocking early attempts to widen NC 12 to Corolla, then beautifully landscaping then adding a paved walkway close to the road wasn’t to help people. It was to radically increase the cost of widening the road which would have prevented the Huge backups on US 158 on summer weekends. The Town of Duck then followed suit, although their sidewalks had a more pedestrian goal. They did see the side benefit that placing the sidewalk close to the road, along with additional development, would up the cost… Read more »


Only for 12 Saturdays out of the year. That is the only time there are issues

Joe mamma

With all of the legitimate concerns and some one is concerned about the birds? Must be an autobahn supporter

Pixie Wescott

Today my husband (7th generation Wanchese) went to Norfolk International Airport to pick up our son who flew from NYC in less then 1hour, the trip to Roanoke Island took 3 hours+/- and that was through Edenton. It would appear that the event site is not our first priority. Just a reasonable thought………what a concept.

Alexander Hollingsworth

There’s already an open space venue on the Outer Banks and it’s called the beach! People come from all over the world to enjoy our beaches, so please explain why we need yet another piece of open space destroyed on the Outer Banks? If people want concrete canyons, high rise hotels and condominiums, then they can head to Ocean City, Virginia Beach or Myrtle Beach!


Let’s clear something up…no one is coming to the Outer Banks for a trade show. The closest almost legitimate airport is Norfolk and it is not great for traveling if you want alternate choices or want direct flight options. There will be limited impact as we cannot fit anymore people here without making everyones lives more miserable on Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday. I see this as an end run to get more hotels or worse a hotel gets an exception to the height restriction. As soon as that happens more exceptions will follow and having homes on the oceanfront… Read more »

Tiny Cottage

There is an effort underway to lengthen the runway at the Dare county airport on Roanoke Island.

Hank M.

“we do expect the facility to incur an operating deficit”, and no one cares?

Ron Painter

a large venue that is widely acknowledged to be under-utilized. Who is in charge that makes sure that this venue is utilized? It sounds like they are being paid to do much of nothing currently.People come here to vacation and people live here because of the outdoor amenities. It would only make sense to utilize the property so that it would cater to the outdoors. Outdoor concerts, festivals, outdoor trade shows, sporting events, it’s endless.. They could have something going on there every week if not every day. Buildings and Hotels become old and dated and get damaged in storms… Read more »


Option 3 is best, keep the hotel off of the current open soundside site while maintaining the open views from the highway. This project will be a huge benefit to Nags Head and the surrounding towns as the site can be utilized year round with a indoor events venue boosting nearby restaurant and hotel accomodations, especially during the off season.


14 million, 24 million, 64 million, 74 million……Have you even asked the taxpayers of Dare County if we even want any more money spent on this site?…Have you asked us if we think we have reached the saturation point in regards to tourism? Have you asked us if we don’t want to become more like a “Virginia Beach”. Your studies always show people come here for the ambiance, the history, the family style of Dare County. It appears you just want to keep building the county to death……Get answers to these questions first and share them with us before you… Read more »


I thought Nags Head made Lidl change their drawing plans because it included too much glass. But now they are saying if it is local, it’s OK ????? Seriously????

Tiny Cottage

Nags Head would not allow those glass walls. They denied a grocery store recently that had large, glass exterior walls as a feature.

Lisa Mayo

If a decision is made to use glass walls, I hope they’re factoring in the cost of using special bird-protection glass. With all the bird life in that area, glass walls would increase the number of bird strikes to a dramatic degree. Dead birds all around the building isn’t really good PR for an area that prides itself on the quality of the natural environment.


Increase visitation in the summer? You are kidding right. This place is oversaturated to the point it is dangerous for everyone.