Our Opinion: Taxpayers spared added costs as talks continue

The conference center is consuming much time and energy for Jefferson City officials, but — for now, at least — added costs to taxpayers are not skyrocketing.

After the City Council voted to advance both remaining conference center proposals to the negotiations phase, we asked last week in this forum whether the city would incur additional costs for a consultant and/or to reimburse the developers for ongoing expenses.

Acting City Administrator Drew Hilpert announced during a Monday work session that neither developer will seek city funds for additional work.

The developers are: Farmer Holding Co. of Jefferson City, which proposes a $36 million project at the Capital Mall, which it owns; and Hannibal-based Ehrhardt Hospitality, which would build a $24.6 million facility on a West McCarty Street site in the downtown area. The city has committed to pay $9 million from increased lodging tax revenues to fund construction.

Council members also delayed discussion of pursuing additional consulting services after being informed by Hilpert that more services may be owed to the city from Johnson Consulting.

The city has paid Johnson Consulting $44,000 in lodging tax funds for services connected with the conference center proposals.

Conference center discussion also indicated some council members believe it’s time to call the question.

Third Ward Councilman Bob Scrivner voiced frustration with a lack of information from Ehrhardt Hospitality about how the developer intends to close the gap between the city’s contribution and the total project cost.

“I’m tired of having meeting after meeting after meeting having speculation,” Scrivner said. “Right now, they’re telling us nothing.”

He made a motion to eliminate the Ehrhardt group from consideration if it fails to provide statistics by Dec. 17, but his motion was amended to remove the threat of elimination.

Conference center discussion began, decades ago, as a concept to enhance the city’s overall economic development in Jefferson City. Sadly, it has devolved into what is largely a territorial dispute with downtown and mall interests competing for a conference center as an economic revitalization tool.

Council members said more time was needed to answer more questions as the rationale for advancing both proposals. Essentially, what they’ve done is extend what may be irreconcilable differences. At some point they must decide, preferably before discussion becomes tiresome and, eventually, counter-productive.

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