The Harvester Performance Center in Rocky Mount – a favorite destination for many Roanokers with its eclectic lineup of music acts since debuting more than four years ago – finished in the black in 2017. The Harvester, owned by the town of Rocky Mount – made a profit of $18,000, up from less than one thousand in 2016. That doesn’t sound like a lot but town officials say it is also accomplishing its primary objective, attracting thousands of visitors and new businesses as well.
Matt Hankins, the Harvester’s CEO and also the assistant town manager, says there were fewer shows last year but per-show attendance was higher, bolstered by acts including notables like Willie Nelson, Dwight Yoakum and Emmylou Harris. This year more than 180 events are planned he added, “[with] more and more shows.”
Rocky Mount invested three million dollars to purchase and renovate what had been a tractor dealership (hence the name Harvester) and, according to Hankins, “that has more than paid for itself.”
Rising meals and sales tax collections from visitors has fueled the Harvester success story – a proposition not all were on board with when Rocky Mount officials first floated the idea of getting into the concert venue business noted Hankins. “When people come here they are supporting our economy – and they are coming here, from 40 states last year. That underwrites the cost of the building. Business owners here are seeing the direct result of that spending.”
Hankins said the visits from all 50 states over the past four years would not have happened “if we didn’t give them a reason to come to Rocky Mount. We have a great live venue and other businesses developing around it. It is paying off. Very few people had the vision that yes; this could happen in Rocky Mount.” Coffee houses, bakeries and retail boutique stores have sprung up; other buildings have now gone on the market for sale as property values near the Harvester have risen.
The Harvester seats around 400 or so in its main performance hall with a smaller stage in the basement. “When we started up there was significant doubt and I think that was justifiable,” said Hankins. “You’re talking about a completely different initiative that hasn’t been tried by many communities. When it has been tried it has been successful and we’re glad to count ourselves on that side of the ledger.”