Our Opinion: Troublesome, tiresome delay in process

Plans to locate a conference center in Jefferson City have suffered another setback.

Imagine that.

Action on the two proposals on the table has been delayed — again.

The initial decision deadline of July 1, which was moved to Sept. 15, now is targeted for mid-October.

The cause of the additional delay is a market study, at an additional expense.

The council voted in a July 8 closed session to commit $17,000 to Johnson Consulting for the conference center market study. The expense is in addition to the $28,750, plus expenses, the council approved for Johnson Consulting to act as a facilitator. The costs for the consultant come from lodging tax collections, not city general revenues.

A question, however, is why is a market study being done now — in the middle of the process?

We suspect the reason is because the realistic proposals from the two developers do not match the city’s vision of what a conference center will be and will do for the city.

The two proposals on the table are from the Ehrhardt Hospitality Group, based in Hannibal, and Farmer Holding Company, a local developer.

Both propose facilities that are smaller than what the city had requested.

And neither has ruled out the possible need for a continuing operating subsidy from city coffers. The city had envisioned its only expense would be a one-time contribution of $9 million from lodging tax revenues for construction.

The market study invites a range of questions:

• Are City Council members seeking political cover if the market study supports accepting a smaller conference center or an ongoing city subsidy?

• Are council members hoping the analysis will encourage developers to enlarge or alter their proposals?

• What are the consequences for developers who already have exposed their intentions and plans? Will either of them — like a previous participant — withdraw from the process?

• If a market study is justified at this juncture, is it the responsibility of the city or the prospective developers?

The added delay is both tiresome and troublesome.

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