County aims to upgrade Southeastern Livestock Pavilion


Denise Alexander, the Facilities Manager of the Southeastern Livestock Pavilion, describes how the current sound system would be upgraded in the Marion County Extension Auditorium at the Southeastern Livestock Pavilion in Ocala, Fla. on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. Marion County is proposing an upgrade to the Extension Auditorium which would include an upgraded audio/video system, new lighting, curtains and other upgrades which would make the facility more appealing to weddings and other functions that are held there. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.

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Posted November 13, 2020 | By Bill Thompson, Ocala Gazette

Auditorium lighting and sound, campsites part of proposed $2.2 improvement package

Denise Alexander, the Facilities Manager of the Southeastern Livestock Pavilion, describes how the current sound system would be upgraded in the Marion County Extension Auditorium at the Southeastern Livestock Pavilion in Ocala, Fla. on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. Marion County is proposing an upgrade to the Extension Auditorium which would include an upgraded audio/video system, new lighting, curtains and other upgrades which would make the facility more appealing to weddings and other functions that are held there. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.

The multipurpose auditorium at the Southeastern Livestock Pavilion is poised for a half-million-dollar makeover.

At a County Commission workshop last week, the board supported Parks and Recreation Department Director Jim Couillard’s recommendations to make the decade-old facility more aesthetically pleasing and functional for community gatherings.

But the auditorium upgrade is just part of an estimated $2.2 million package to enhance the entire 55-acre property for a variety of users.

Beginning with the 11,000-square-foot auditorium, Couillard pitched commissioners an upgrade to its lighting and sound systems.

His list includes new wall-mounted speakers, amplifiers, wireless microphones and other technology for those suffering from hearing impairments.

In addition, the upgrade also would add new video projection screens, streaming-media processors and remote touch-screen control units.

Couillard also proposed improving the electrical system in the building’s kitchen to aid caterers, new wooden baseboards to replace tile that is prone to crack and fresh window treatments.

Estimated cost: $327,750.

Couillard noted that would be funded by repurposing money in the department’s 2021 capital improvements budget.

But commissioners also liked ideas that are not funded at the moment.

Those included new light fixtures for the ceiling and walls and replacing formica bar tops with wood, as well as new landscaping, paint, awnings, lighting and signage for the building’s exterior.

That second list was projected to run $167,200, bringing the building’s total makeover to $494,950.

“It’s become quite the facility. A lot of people have discovered it,” Couillard told the board.

And increasingly, those people are using it at no cost.

According to his presentation, the county reaped no revenue for 26 percent of the 115 events held in the auditorium in fiscal year 2018. In FY 2019, the for-free usage jumped to 40 percent of 116 events. During the last fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30, usage slipped to 107 gatherings because of COVID-19, but 64 percent them generated no revenue.

Ironically, Couillard pointed out that revenue had increased last fiscal year – $63,330, up from $58,600 in 2019 – because the fee-based events, though fewer in number, were booked at higher rates.

Despite the increased popularity, though, users had frequently complained about some of the features, he noted.

According to Couillard’s report, the hall itself produced an echo, or the current speakers distorted the sound. As for visual effects, not all guests could see the projection screens, the screens themselves were inadequate, ceiling lights were not dimmable and glare blasted through the building’s glass doors and windows.

Couillard said that despite the reduced fee-based bookings and rental rates that had not changed since 2014, the county still would recover the cost of the audio and visual portion of the proposed enhancements within five years – and work could start right away.

“We can essentially get to work on this project with the board’s approval,” he said.

Christopher Campana of Chiefland sets up guns for the Gun Trader Shows gun show in the Marion County Extension Auditorium at the Southeastern Livestock Pavilion in Ocala, Fla. on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. Marion County is proposing an upgrade to the Extension Auditorium which would include an upgraded audio/video system, new lighting, curtains and other upgrades which would make the facility more appealing to weddings and other functions that are held there. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.

While supportive of both aspects of the project, the board could not take formal action to approve because it met in a workshop. It’s unclear when commissioners would give the green light.

Meanwhile, the auditorium was only part of the vision for the Livestock Pavilion.

Couillard floated another $1.7 million in improvements to its camping facilities, the Dave Ballie Arena and parking areas.

The Livestock Pavilion property features 58 campsites for trailers or recreational vehicles, but only nine of them offer water, sewer and electric service, Couillard said.

Couillard recommended establishing another 48 full-service campsites at a projected cost of nearly $885,000.

The rest of the effort involves paving a new access lane to those new campsites from Northeast Jacksonville Road, paving 127 parking spaces and completing the roof of the Baillie Arena, the corners of which, Coulliard added, were “clipped” off during the original construction phase as a cosdt-cutting measure.

The parks director maintained the county would recoup this funding within 18 months, based on current usage and rental rates.

Couillard noted that, once the improvements are finished, the Livestock Pavilion would then offer the closest RV sites to downtown Ocala.

“Now, we’re looking at this, not just for events, but could you imagine marketing it during the busy times of the year to people that don’t want to stay in a hotel, and stay in their own RVs, which have become very popular since COVID?” he told the board.

“We think that the investment now into those RV sites would be something that would be very worthwhile.”

Commissioner Kathy Bryant recommended waiting for the state to provide the money, which Couillard felt had a good shot of being funded.

Yet Commissioner Carl Zalak advocated pushing ahead. He suggested that the county could borrow the money and start reaping the rental revenue sooner.

Commissioner Michelle Stone lobbied for exploring whether the commission could tap some of the nearly $64 million Marion County received through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act, a $2-plus trillion coronavirus aid package passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump in March.

Stone prevailed, and the board directed staff to investigate whether CARES money could be used for the improvements.