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Expo Center still losing despite cuts

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By Cindy Simpson

A lot of cost-saving changes have been made at the Henry-Stafford Exposition Center at Roane State Community College.

The popular site of community events stays busy and, through the people it brings in, pumps plenty of money into the Roane County economy.

However, on its own operations side, it’s not breaking even.

Roane State President Gary Goff said he is projecting a deficit of between $75,000 to $100,000 in operations for the year.

He said Roane State needs the community’s help to save the popular attraction that brings visitors to Roane County.

“I don’t know how I’m going to keep the Expo Center operating if I don’t get some help,” Goff said.

Goff said that is why he sent a letter to Roane County Executive Ron Woody and to Harriman city officials asking both entities to consider raising their motel occupancy tax between 2 and 3 percent.

A 2-percent increase, he believes, would generate about $85,000.

Goff’s letter to the government officials refers to the $5 million to $6 million in community spending believed to be brought in by the crowds that come into the area for Expo Center events.

Over the past three years, Goff said, Roane State has increased the event leasing fee and upped fees for nightly RV campground use, horse boarding and horse bedding materials.

The community college has also opened up the 300-horse barn for nightly bed-down use for horses being transported through the area.

The center has outsourced the snack bar operations and reduced equipment purchases and staffing, he said.

Goff’s request to increase occupancy taxes rankled Kingston-area lodging managers, who contend they get very little benefit, compared to Harriman lodging, from events at the Expo Center.

The hotel operators signed a letter to the Kingston City Council and Roane County Commission complaining that their rates are already higher than nearby Harriman.

They also asked the government entities to consider a decrease in Kingston hotel occupancy taxes to make those lodges more competitive with Harriman and surrounding communities.

The hotel operators also contend that “the city of Harriman does not participate in funding county tourism promotion (The Roane Alliance), as Harriman’s 5 percent (hotel tax) contribution goes to the city of Harriman’s general budget.”