Our Opinion: More time, more complications and, perhaps, more expense

A riddle: How many consultants does it take to pick a conference center proposal?

The Jefferson City Council is considering hiring a consultant for the next episode in its ongoing conference center saga.

During the decades-long process, we confess we have lost track of the number, scope and costs of various analyses, proposals and feasibility studies.

The most recent chapter began earlier this year when the city committed up to $9 million from expanded lodging tax revenues to attract a developer.

Three proposals were unveiled in March. Subsequently, one of the developers withdrew and the City Council, in November, faced a choice between two proposals. One was from Jefferson City-based Farmer Holding Co. for a $36 million project at Capital Mall, which it owns; the other was from Hannibal-based Ehrhardt Hospitality Group for a $24.6 project on West McCarty Street in the downtown area.

To assist in the process, the city paid $44,000 to Johnson Consulting, which deemed the Farmer proposal more feasible.

Facing pressure from proponents of both projects, council members voted 6-4 to advance both proposals to the contract negotiation phase. The stated reasoning for the indecisiveness is questions remain unanswered and more time is needed.

The drawback of that reasoning is time may be money — more specifically, taxpayers money.

In the negotiation phase, the city may need the expertise of a consultant and/or contract attorney. Also during negotiations, developers may request city reimbursements for certain expenses as the projects move forward.

Council members who addressed the issue at Tuesday’s meeting were reluctant to support hiring a consultant or approving added expenditures.

The time frame for the negotiations phase, however, is fairly open-ended. City officials say negotiations could take up to two years.

Can the City Council effectively negotiate between two proposal from two developers for up to two years without a consultant? How much is the council willing to reimburse a developer that, ultimately, is eliminated? And, can the council justify spending more tax dollars to hire a consultant if it ignores advice not considered politically expedient?

In voting themselves more time, council members also created more complications.

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