Some local officials believe, and even fear, that Fort Bragg is growing too big, too fast from a business perspective. While officials welcome the military growth, there is some concern about the self-sufficiency Fort Bragg is building, from a new convention center to a huge entertainment complex. Add to that growth the 12,000 seat stadium being built by Major League Baseball on the post while Fayetteville is debating the construction of a minor league ballpark.
Local government, some merchants and others are privately worried that the massive commercial development on post could eventually damage the civilian economy.
“They’re building their own economy,” said Bill Crisp, a long-time member of Fayetteville’s City Council.
Crisp recalls efforts five years ago to lure Embassy Suites to Fayetteville. The attraction for the hotel was its proximity to Fort Bragg. Five Points Hospitality, Inc., manages the property, which is owned by MBM Hospitality, LLC, of Fayetteville. The City of Fayetteville pulled out all the stops to make sure the owners chose a location off Yadkin Road, offering tax incentives, spending half a million dollars improving drainage issues, waiving building permit fees and providing a low-interest loan. Adequate conference space was an important element in order to meet the demand created by the relocation to Fort Bragg of the Army’s four-star Forces Command from Atlanta.
The Army decided to build a convention center of its own on the site of the old Noncommissioned Officers Club. Military leaders called it their “crown jewel.” A new hotel is planned next door, all of which will duplicate Fayetteville’s Embassy Suites. The post also recently renovated the three-story Landmark Inn and military guest houses. Meanwhile, hotels in the civilian community are seeing a downturn in business.
“It’s going to hurt Spring Lake and hotel occupancy overall,” said John Meroski, president and CEO of the Fayetteville Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Meroski told Up & Coming Weekly there has been a large growth spurt in hotels locally. According to Meroksi, two hotels are under construction and four more are planned.
“In the last six months, for the first time in seven years, occupancy is trending stable,” added Meroski. Sixty-five to 70 percent occupancy is considered full, he explained. The market occupancy rate now is 60 percent.
At Fort Bragg, a $20 million-plus entertainment center with a multiscreen movie theater, restaurants and specialty retailers is planned. Known as Freedom Crossing, it is under development by the Army & Air Force Exchange System.
“Nothing like it quite exists in Fayetteville,” said AAFES Spokeswoman Julie Mitchell. Fort Bragg Spokeswoman Christina Douglas said the facility will open in 2018 on a site off Woodruff Street near the North Post Exchange.
When the complex was announced, Mitchell said six to nine national restaurant chains will be part of it. Douglas indicated the exchange system has not made public the franchises likely to locate on post. But a similar development at Fort Bliss, Texas, has a Texas Roadhouse, Smashburger, Buffalo Wild Wings and other restaurants and retailers. The complex will fill gaps in entertainment and dining options for families at Fort Bragg, Mitchell said.
The saving grace, Meroski notes, is that soldiers still enjoy leaving post when off duty for entertainment and shopping options and there are a number of military families that live off post and are integrated into the community.