A planned 3,000-seat educational center will have a substantial economic impact on Orangeburg County over the next five years, Jehovah’s Witnesses officials say.

The center could generate $264 million in revenues over a five-year period, with the added benefit of more than $18.4 million in new sales tax revenues for the local area, church spokesman Bill Sims said.

“This will increase consumer spending in the county without impacting essential community services such as schools, and other community services that residents typically require,” Sims said. “The facility is already reserved for more than 40 weeks of the year.”

The Assembly Hall of the Jehovah’s Witnesses will be constructed on land near the intersection of S.C. Highway 33 and Interstate 26. The 58-acre parcel is near Gussy Drive and Assembly Hall Way, which serves as a frontage road to I-26.

Initial plans call for a $14 million, 65,000-square-foot facility with parking that will meet and exceed zoning requirements, Sims said.

Sims said the facility is expected to result in new local construction jobs and long-term sustainable jobs being added to the Orangeburg area in the form of additional restaurant and hospitality sector jobs.

Officials project there will be about 40 two-day events held at the center annually with an estimated total attendance of 160,000 visitors a year.

With each person spending an estimated $66 per day, there will be a total annual revenue of $52.8 million, Sims said. With a sales tax of 7 percent, the total annual sales tax collections will be about $3.7 million with a five-year total sales tax projection of $18.5 million.

Sims said although the church owns about 58 acres, engineers are studying how much land is needed for the center now and in the future.

If permitting and other considerations align, Sims said ground could be broken in the third quarter of 2011 under a construction management arrangement with licensed contractors. Construction estimates range from 12 to 15 months.

“The purpose of the educational center is to educate the Jehovah’s Witnesses and their neighbors in the practical application of Bible principles in daily life,” he said. “The public is invited to attend weekly meetings.”

Sims said the Orangeburg site was chosen from a large pool of possible locations.

“Our search team examined more than 200 sites in the state,” Sims said. “We would like to extend our thanks to all those in Orangeburg County who helped make this site our choice.

“This facility and its strategic location near the I-26/I-95 region make it a convenient option.”

Representatives from the congregation appeared before the Orangeburg County Transportation Committee earlier this month with a request to widen the turning radius of S.C. 33 in an effort to accommodate the increased traffic. The work is estimated to cost about $400,000.

Due to the lack of quorum, the committee received the proposal as information and will most likely take the matter up again.

In the interim, Sims said the Assembly Hall will help the economy for years to come.

“Witnesses are experiencing growth not only globally but also in the Southeastern region,” he said. “Approximately 2,100 of the more than 100,000 anticipated annual visitors are Orangeburg County residents. More than 25,000 Witnesses in South Carolina, southeastern North Carolina and the Savannah and Augusta areas of Georgia will also use the facility.”

source: http://www.thetandd.com/lifestyles/faith-and-values/article_0c5a9ae6-2b6f-11e0-950d-001cc4c002e0.html