Lake Norman & Mooresville

Can the Mack Center bring in more money?

Mooresville's town commissioners may decide at their March 5 meeting whether to pay several thousand dollars for consultation on how to make the Charles Mack Citizen Center more profitable.

The town-owned center brings in very little money, but costs hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to operate.

Debby Hoover wants to charge $25,000 for consultation on how the center can make money. Her preliminary plans include giving the building a facelift, restructuring and retraining staff for the hospitality industry and launching a marketing campaign.

Hoover is a hospitality consultant who formerly chaired the Mooresville-South Iredell Chamber of Commerce.

The town did not have to pay for her initial suggestions. The consultation fee does not include costs associated with the suggested improvements.

The Mack Center was built in 1995 with funds from the Lowrance Hospital sale. Iredell County previously owned the hospital.

When county staff sold the hospital, they knew the revenue from the sale would have to go to public use. A county-created citizen's group reviewed several proposed public uses for the money.

Ultimately, the group decided to put use the money for a Mooresville citizen center. Town funds helped the project reach fruition.

In 2004, the citizen center more than doubled to 61,000 square feet after the CJ Mack Foundation made a $4.5 million donation in 2002.

The center was dedicated as the Charles Mack Citizen Center in May 2005 in honor of the longtime Mooresville resident who ran a grocery store.

Today, the center, at 215 N. Main St., hosts everything from weddings to real estate classes for as little as $30 an hour. Any revenue generated goes back into the town's general fund.

Several organizations use the space rent-free, as specified in the original agreement between the Council on Aging and the town.

Those agencies include the Mooresville Graded School District, the Mooresville-South Iredell Chamber of Commerce, South Iredell Senior Center, the Town of Mooresville, Mooresville Downtown Commission, The Mooresville South Iredell Economic Development Commission, and Iredell-Statesville Schools.

The center hosts a number of large-scale events each year, such as the Unique Creations Arts and Crafts Fair and Iredell Memorial Hospital's Day of Dance for Your Health.

According to its budget, the center has lost $362,000-$426,000 every year since 2008, even as rental income has increased. From 2008 to 2011, rental income increased from $109,940 to $227,315.

During the most recent fiscal year, the town's budgeted expenditures for the center was about $660,000. The center's expenditures were $611,000.

Meanwhile, the town budgeted the center's revenue to be about $170,000. The center actually brought in $193,000.

Commissioner Mac Herring said he is open to the ideas proposed in Hoover's plan, although he wants more details.

For instance, her proposal suggests a comprehensive marketing and branding campaign but doesn't specify what the branding should look like, he said.

Whatever changes the town may make at the Mack Center, Herring said, he hopes the center remains - at least in part - an affordable venue for public use.

"We can't go away from it being a citizen center. That's why it was built, and that is the heart of what it is," Herring said.