Monday, 31 December 2018 17:14

A look back: Top stories of 2018

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ROCKINGHAM — As 2018 comes to a close, we decided to take a look back at some of Richmond County’s top news stories of the year.

SPEEDWAY REVIVAL

After being relatively dormant since the last race in 2013, Rockingham Speedway was purchased in August.

The news gave hope to racing fans wishing to see the legendary track brought back to life.

Rockingham Properties LLC bought the speedway for $2.8 million two years after it was put up for sale.

While it is yet to be know whether NASCAR will return to the Rock, speedway officials have said that some type of racing happen.

Frank Bloom, vice president of events, sales and marketing, gauged public interest on the possibility of constructing a dirt track on the property.

The speedway also topped a recent Twitter poll as the former track fans would most like to see a NASCAR race, beating out North Wilkesboro and Nashville Fairgrounds.

ARE YOU READY TO ROCK?

More than 60 hard rock and heavy metal bands — as well as 100,000 fans — are expected to descend upon Rockingham Dragway for the inaugural Epicenter music festival.

The three-day event, promoted by Danny Wimmer Presents, takes the place of Carolina Rebellion, which was held at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Dragway owner Steve Earwood announced he has signed a 10-year deal to host the festival.

Major acts for the upcoming year include Foo Fighters, Judas Priest, Korn, The Cult, Rob Zombie and Tool.

County Manager Bryan Land said the festival is expected to have a nearly $40 million impact on the regional economy.

FLORENCE FLOODS NORTH CAROLINA

While Richmond County was spared most of the devastation, southeastern North Carolina suffered tremendous losses in the wake of Hurricane Florence in September.

Several roads across the county were closed because of flooding and several businesses, including Rockingham Guns and Ammo, suffered damage.

The storm made landfall near Wrightsville Beach and slowly made its way across the Carolinas, dumping 8 trillion gallons of rain after after producing a storm surge that caused flooding along the coast from Hyde to Brunswick counties.

Elizabethtown in Bladen County recorded nearly three feet of rain, according to preliminary totals on a chart from National Weather Service. Swansboro, which was hit by the surge, received 34 inches.

Further inland, Rockingham recorded more than 14 inches of rain, Lumberton had 22.76 and Raeford received 14.32.

In addition to the rain, Florence’s strong winds snapped trees which landed on power lines, leaving millions of people without electricity.

OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW

The corner of Lee and Franklin streets looks a lot different than it did in January. 

The longtime landmark of the R.W. Goodman building, as well as the Long building, was demolished this fall to make room for the future downtown Rockingham campus for Richmond Community College. 

In September, local dignitaries broke ground on the Kenneth and Claudia Robinette Building, which will house The Levine School of Business and Information Technology.

Soon after, demolition crews began bringing down the buildings, leaving a pile of rubble at year’s end.

The new building is set to be complete by the end of 2019.

ELECTION

In some ways, November’s election is still not over.

An investigation into voting irregularities has stymied the 9th Congressional District race, with outgoing Rep. Robert Pittenger’s seat set to be empty when the U.S. House of Representatives convenes Thursday.

Republicans and Democrats have traded barbs back and forth, with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer saying Republican Mark Harris, who led Democratic challenger Dan McCready by 905 votes, will not be seated.

The election also resulted in Dr. Rick Watkins and Tavares Bostic joining the Richmond County Board of Commissioners. 

Former commissioner Thad Ussery, who decided not to run, was honored after more than 20 years on the board.

HOPE FOR THE HOMELESS

This summer, the county sold the former Rohanen Middle School property to Place of Grace to be converted into a new homeless shelter.

Pastor Gary Richardson has plans to be able to provide lodging for women and children, in addition to the men who are already served. Richardson also intends to have a food pantry, outreach ministry, soup kitchen, church discipleship and recovery programs.

The new campus also hosts services of New Life Church and an afterschool program.

RO EXPANDS OPERATIONS

The Richmond Observer has also seen several changes in the past year.

Kyle Pillar started off as managing editor but later stepped down to tackle local athletics as sports editor. Writer C.K. Craven took the helm for the next several months.

Award-winning local journalist William R. Toler joined the staff in August and was named managing editor in November.

In addition to changes with the online publication, KCL Media launched internet radio station The Classic Rock and the show Good Morning Sandhills in late January.

The morning show began with Live at 5 anchors Lance Jenkins and Sierra McQueen and now features Matt Harrelson and Jonathan Pope.

The RO Sports Show also began airing in early 2018, with hosts and guests giving updates and commentary on a variety of local, state and national sports.

In December, the Richmond Observer moved from its location on Rockingham Road to a former bank building on South Lawrence Street after owners Kenny and Charlie Melvin bought the property from the city of Rockingham.

The second floor of the building is home to all news and entertainment operations while the downstairs area will serve as a small business incubator, making office space available for rent to companies that want to locate downtown.

LOOKING FORWARD

Many of the changes in 2018 will also have an impact on 2019 and the Richmond Observer will continue to bring readers updates on those and other news and features from around the county in the coming year.