City officials react to St. Mary’s announcement

They say site should be considered for conference center

While Jefferson City officials are beginning the process of narrowing down three proposals for a possible conference center, one group is pointing to a site that went unmentioned in the most recent proposal process.

On Friday, St. Mary’s Health Center announced it has hired Sansone Group of St. Louis to work with potential buyers to purchase and redevelop the current center’s site, 100 St. Mary’s Medical Plaza, as it will be relocating to a new building in January 2015. Representatives from the center and the Sansone Group identified a conference or convention center as a possible use of the site, even though the health center did not submit a proposal on the project.

Jefferson City officials are scheduled to meet Monday in closed session to begin going through the three proposals received. By the end of the month, officials hope to be finished with phase one and move into design work and negotiations as part of phase two.

In the city’s request for proposals, it was decided to allow proposals for any site within city limits, though two sites were designated as “preauthorized,” the McCarty and old Missouri State Penitentiary sites. Those two sites would automatically receive the maximum points in scoring for location.

The criteria for other sites includes proximity to the Capitol and downtown, adequate parking, distance from other hotels, highway access and proximity to restaurants, bars and other places of entertainment.

City Administrator Nathan Nickolaus said the idea of the conference center at the St. Mary’s site is worth considering, especially because it already has the necessary parking in place, but a developer would need to be interested in the site.

“It’s a good central location,” Nickolaus said. “It certainly is a spot that has been talked about in the past.”

Mayor Eric Struemph said the idea of using the St. Mary’s site would need to be discussed by the entire City Council before including any developers.

“I think it would be up to the council,” Struemph said. “I think it’s a very interesting location.”

Fourth Ward Councilwoman Carrie Carroll said the chosen location for a conference center would depend on the developer and the council, though she would prefer to have the MSP site selected.

Carroll said the city and St. Mary’s would need to continue ongoing discussions about the site before any decision was made and said, though it is a great site, it could be problematic to a conference center.

“That site is the potential for something great,” Carroll said. “A lot of work would be required.”

Carroll said the idea of having a conference center on that site wasn’t included in the Transformation proposals because of how much work it would take to get the site ready for a conference center.

Transformation was an economic development strategic plan put forward by the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce to raise more than $41 million to complete a list of 30 projects around the city, including revitalizing St. Mary’s Health Center and funding a proposed conference center. Jefferson City voters rejected the Transformation ballot issue on Feb. 7, 2012. It would have imposed a half-cent 10-year sales tax.

Chamber President and CEO Randy Allen said he hasn’t looked or even thought about the site in detail for a conference center, but it was discussed somewhat during Transformation. Allen said the current buildings don’t fit the current proposals for a conference center, though that would depend on what a developer is willing to put into the project.

Allen agreed the site’s existing parking provide a huge benefit, but the ultimate decision on whether the site would fit would lie with a developer.

“Obviously it’s landlocked because of the highways, but it also has a prominent location in town,” Allen said.

A developer would need to decide if the buildings would need to be demolished and reconfigured, and at what cost, or if it would be better and more cost-efficient to go to a “virgin site,” Allen said.

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