The results of an extensive needs assessment survey conducted earlier this year revealed strong support by residents of Franklin and Bedford counties for a multi-purpose center at Smith Mountain Lake, as well as huge potential economic impact for the region.
The results were presented in April by Vince Magnini, Ph.D., executive director of Virginia Beach-based Institute for Service Research LLC, which conducted the survey on behalf of the non-profit Smith Mountain Lake Center, Inc.
“Our goal was to find out if residents throughout both counties feel the community would benefit from a multi-purpose facility, and whether they think there is unmet demand for the possible offerings one could provide,” said Walter “Woody” Hogle, chairman of the SML Center’s Board of Directors. “We can now say with certainty that the answer is a resounding ‘yes’ on both fronts.”
The survey asked respondents about their degree of support for a venue that could provide space for a variety of uses. The vast majority of respondents think the community would benefit from a venue for:
- Performing arts/entertainment (87.2% agree or strongly agree)
- Education (86.6% agree or strongly agree)
- Tourism-related activities (80.9% agree or strongly agree)
- Meeting space for clubs, businesses and civic organizations (78.1% agree or strongly agree)
- Health and wellness (75.6% agree or strongly agree)
- Social gatherings (75.2% agree or strongly agree)
The survey also revealed that the community perceives there is unmet demand in the SML region for such space in every category. When asked if they spent money outside of Bedford or Franklin counties last year because one or more of the potential offerings was not readily available, 61.5 percent of respondents indicated yes. The average amount spent, when adjusted for non-response bias and upper bound outliers, was $1,290 per person, according to Magnini.
Potential findings also indicated the center could attract 4,800-9,600 non-local visitors in its first year, providing an influx of fresh money into the economy.
“When you factor in the current economic leakage – residents going outside the area for these services – with the potential impact for visitors and tourists, the economic impact in the center’s first year ranges from $47.5 million to $58 million,” Hogle said. “That could generate an estimated $3.3 million to $4.1 million in state and local taxes.”
The survey was conducted online and by phone over six weeks in January and February with 727 households submitting responses, according to Magnini. Profiles of responding households included permanent and non-permanent residents of various ages, parental status and marital status throughout both counties.
Armed with the critical information provided by the survey, Hogle said the SML Center’s board of directors is moving forward with planning and implementation.
“We’re reaching out to potential partners in both counties to gauge interest and support, discuss requirements for space, technology and other needs,” Hogle said. “That will help us determine size, design and cost, and whether we can retrofit an existing structure or will need to consider building a new facility in Bedford County or Franklin County.”
The effort to establish a community center at Smith Mountain Lake dates back more than a decade but was given renewed interest following the shooting at Bridgewater Plaza in August 2015.
Initially referred to as Vicki’s Vision, the effort is now known officially as the Smith Mountain Lake Center, Inc., a fully operational non-profit organization made up of a board of 13 directors who meet monthly.