County may manage arena

Published 1:00 am Thursday, March 28, 2019

After 10 years, Bullard won’t renew facility lease

The Covington County Commission is planning to take over management of the Covington County Arena when its current lease with Don Bullard ends June 30.

Bullard said Wednesday he has notified the commission he does not intend to renew the lease, which has been in place for 10 years.

Commission Chairman Greg White said that the commission has been looking at several different options including having a private owner take over the arena.

“The commission will have to take steps toward managing and operating the arena ourselves or considering some other proposal that we may receive,” White said. “There are unofficial discussions taking place. I have been talking with different events and people that would contract different events. I have traveled to talk with some people and I know other commissioners are having similar conversations. We are just trying to get a feel for what different opportunities there are.”

White said that the reason the arena was built in the first place was to provide economic impact on the surrounding communities.

“I think it has served that purpose, but I think it is a much more significant impact if it is operated by the county,” White said. “Because our motivation is different. A private operator has the goal of making money for every event, while the county can operate it in a way that it has positive impact for the county.”

The commission is still in the early stages of deciding whether to operate the arena by themselves.

“We are still looking at costs and an operating budget,” White said. “We are also looking at user fees and what would be appropriate there. We are really excited to venture into this and see what opportunities can come from it.”

White said that as a private operator, Bullard had to look at operating the arena differently from a public operator.

“I think the economic impact that the arena could have is greater than what we thought in recent years,” White said. “Just because of our approach and different interests.”

Bullard first entered a five-year lease agreement with the county for $12,000 per year for the arena in 2009. The agreement allowed a five-year renewal with the lease increasing $100 per month each year, capping at $1,500 per month, or $18,000 per year.

He covered all operational and maintenance costs, as well as property insurance and $2 million in liability coverage. He estimated Wednesday he’s lost $250,000 during the years he leased the facility.

At the time it leased the facility, the county was spending $191,050 to operate the arena, according to Star-News archives. The county also was paying $228,348 annually in debt service for the bond issue, which was set to be paid in full by 2032.

It also had entertained an offer in 2009 from the City of Andalusia to manage the facility. The city’s proposal would have required the county to contribute $50,000 toward the operational expenses annually.