Another conference center consultant?

Jefferson City may be seeking a new consultant to assist in the negotiation phase of the conference center discussions.

At the City Council meeting Tuesday, council members discussed the possibility of hiring another consultant for the next phase of discussions. The City Council had hired Charles Johnson, of Johnson Consulting, for the last phase of discussions and has paid Johnson more than $44,000 for his work.

In mid-November, the City Council voted 6-4 to move conference center proposals from both Jefferson City-based Farmer Holding Co. and Hannibal-based Ehrhardt Hospitality Group forward into the contract negotiation phase. There is no timeline for completing the next phase, with interim City Administrator Drew Hilpert saying it could take from two months to two years before contracts are ready to be presented.

Farmer Holding Co. has proposed a $36 million hotel and conference center at the Capital Mall, while Ehrhardt Hospitality has proposed a $24.6 million hotel and conference center at the West McCarty Street site, which is owned by the state.

Hilpert led the council in discussing the possibility of hiring a consultant and an outside attorney for the next phase, as well as whether to offer developers a stipend and how much that would be.

But several council members indicated they wanted more time to consider the request and get more questions answered before they would be willing to approve any further expenditures related to the proposals.

Second Ward Councilman Shawn Schulte said he is unwilling to authorize the hiring of another consultant until more answers are provided. Schulte said the council told one developer that property tax abatement was “off the table,” yet the other developer has requested that particular tax incentive. The Ehrhardt Hospitality Group’s proposal lists property tax abatement as a requested incentive.

Schulte said one proposal, from Ehrhardt Hospitality Group, did not submit all the information required in the last phase and he does not want to approve any further spending until all the needed information is submitted.

Second Ward Councilman J. Rick Mihalevich agreed, saying he would be more comfortable waiting until more answers were provided and one proposal was chosen before spending more money on a consultant and stipends.

“We’ve never looked at apples to apples,” Mihalevich said.

Third Ward Councilman Bob Scrivner said one developer, Farmer Holding Co., had clearly put a lot of resources into their proposal and he is not in favor of “subsidizing” the other proposal so it can get to a comparable level.

“Right now, the two do not equate,” Scrivner said. “That’s on the developer, that’s not on the city.”

The council opted not to make any final decisions Tuesday, but directed staff to work on a draft request for proposals for a consultant. Hilpert said a consultant would direct the city in the next steps within the negotiations, advise on stipends for the developers and look at the numbers provided by each developer to see if they are reasonable.

“He tells us where to go from here,” Hilpert said.

The council has tentatively scheduled a work session for 6 p.m. Monday to discuss what services they would like a consultant to provide.

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