Public comment session held on future of Woodmen Center in Kinston

KINSTON, NC (WITN) Members of the Kinston community came together Tuesday to talk about the fate of a multi-million dollar community center and water park.

At the Kinston City Council meeting last week the fate of the Woodmen Center was on the agenda. But after urging during the public comment period, the council decided to hold another public comment meeting to gauge public support for their plan.

The conference room of the Woodmen Center was packed Tuesday as residents and employees of the center and local government showed up to express their opinions on what they think should happen to the center and its adjoining waterpark.

One person said, "I have full confidence in our city manager, our city council, parks and recreation, and Woodmen Community Center staff to continue to operate these valuable facilities."

Back in November of 2017 The Woodmen Foundation, which currently owns the Woodmen Center and Waterpark, expressed interest in withdrawing from a deal they had with the city regarding the property, creating an offer to pay off the nearly $10 million in debt owed on the property, and gift the facility outright to the city.

Kinston city manager Tony Sears says, "It is paramount to this council and this body to make sure that this facility is financially stable and that it can be self-supporting. And that is really where some of that conversation with the community begins, whether or not this facility is self-supporting."

But even with those assurances from Sears, the public comment session drew opinions from both sides, including people who did not think the city owning such a facility was financially viable.

Others urged that a gift of this magnitude was a no-brainer.

In an audit that the city provided on the profitability of the Woodmen Center and the Waterpark, revenue has been declining slowly over time, but projections show that even with factoring in declining revenue, the facility will remain profitable for at least the next three years.

Kinston City Council says they will hold an official vote to decide what they will do with the center next Monday.

The Woodmen Foundation has not stated publicly what will come of the facility if the city council does not accept the gift.