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Final conference center plans submitted

Developers hoping to construct a conference center in Jefferson City submitted their final and best proposals Thursday, and the City Council is expected to make a decision within two weeks.

At a special City Council meeting Thursday, representatives of Farmer Development, based in Jefferson City, presented their plan for a new conference center at the Capital Mall in the packed council chambers of City Hall. The Ehrhardt Hospitality Group, out of Hannibal, was invited to present their final plans, but was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict. The final plan from Ehrhardt was not shown during the meeting Thursday, but was shared with the media afterwards.

The Farmers’ plan, as presented by Rob Kingsbury and Kirk Farmer, is substantially different from their original proposal.

Farmer Development had provided a floor plan in June that showed about seven meeting rooms, with the largest space being 2,580 square feet, nowhere near the amount recommended by the city’s consulting firm and much smaller than space already available at the Capitol Plaza Hotel. The conference center and hotel also were not connected to the Capital Mall in the earlier plans.

But the plan presented Thursday shows a 150-room hotel attached to the Capital Mall, with the conference center existing within the mall space. The conference center would provide a 20,000 square foot ballroom and 10,000 square feet of additional meeting space within the mall. The plan also does not require an annual subsidy from the city.

“We don’t need an ongoing subsidy from the general revenue fund to do it,” Farmer said.

The Farmers’ plan also included a shuttle service from the mall to various points of interest, potentially including the Capitol and the old Missouri State Penitentiary.

“We’ll be able to attract and go after any convention that we want to,” Kingsbury said. “We want to see it happen because of the economic shot in the arm this will create.”

In their presentation, the Farmers attempted to show that their location and their plan was the only feasible option, stating the downtown location, as proposed by Ehrhardt, would require an annual subsidy of $250,000 and funds to construct a parking garage. The Ehrhardt proposal as submitted to the city does not state the need for any operating subsidy.

“Parking’s not an issue and it’s not a cost at our facility,” Kingsbury said. “The site work cost is zero … it’s never flooded there.”

Farmer said the project would cost $36 million, with the developers putting up $27 million. Farmer said the return on investment of the property would be less than 3 percent, assuming the hotel brings in $1 million annually in net operating income and the conference center loses $250,000 annually.

The Ehrhardt plan showed a conference center with a total of 30,000 square feet of meeting space with collapsible doors that would allow it to be used as one room or separate rooms; it would be attached to a 150-room hotel.

Ehrhardt Hospitality Group provided a floor plan in June that showed a 20,000 square foot ballroom and two additional meeting rooms, with 6,000 square feet each.

The Ehrhardt plan also shows the need for a city constructed and operated parking garage with a minimum of 350 parking stalls, though the plan notes the state may need the garage to provide 650 spaces to accommodate state employees.

The total amount for the project, including the city’s $9 million contribution, would be $24.6 million.

The Ehrhardt plan also requests several cost incentives, including a “super” tax increment financing district and property tax abatement.

Both proposals are available for viewing on the city’s website at www.jeffcitymo.org/main/ConferenceCenter.html.

Two public hearings will be held on the proposals next week: one at noon Tuesday and another at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. The City Council also will meet again at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to hear the recommendation form their hired facilitator Charles Johnson, of Johnson Consulting.

Mayor Eric Struemph urged members of the public to voice their opinion on the matter regardless of where they stand to assist the council in making the best decision for the community.

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