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Public hearing speakers favor downtown conference center

Four of the six Jefferson City area residents who spoke at Tuesday’s public hearing on the proposed Jefferson City conference center preferred the downtown location to a Capital Mall site.

City Council members will hold a second public hearing this week, at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, in the City Hall Council chambers, 320 E. McCarty St.

Although representatives of the Farmer Development Co., which proposes to build a conference center at the Capital Mall, they declined to speak at Tuesday’s hearing.

Trey Propes manages hotel properties near the Capital Mall, but also represents the Hannibal-based Ehrhardt Development company, which proposes the downtown site.

“The only thing I have to say is, please prayerfully consider both of our proposals — you’ve got two great ones,” he told the council Tuesday afternoon. “I believe both groups are doing nothing but trying to do what they believe is best for Jefferson City. …

“We just have a difference of opinion on the location of that conference center.”

Jim O’Connor moved to Jefferson City in 1987, when much of the city’s west side development still was in the future.

“I think that the hotel and conference center/convention center is a great opportunity to continue the progress, and it’s a chance to achieve an objective that’s been in this community’s sights for a number of years,” O’Connor said. “I support the Farmer Holding Co.’s best and final proposal. … I like the mix of taxpayer dollars versus private development dollars.

“(And) it appears to me there are more ‘knowns’ in their proposal.”

Contractor Frank Twehous said the mall site is “by far the best and most economical for the city’s interests.”

He also favored the idea of “dealing with local families … not somebody from out-of-town.”

But Jay Hahn of the Missouri Optometric Association said his group would more likely use a downtown site for its conferences.

He also is a board member of the Missouri Society of Association Executives, and said his conversation with fellow board members indicates “they would not utilize or benefit a convention center anywhere other than downtown.”

Donna Deetz, “a very strong supporter of having the downtown site,” told the seven council members at Tuesday’s public hearing that it’s the better location for “the long-term viability of this city and what we can do for economic development.”

She was one of several people who noted that “two-thirds of the (meeting) planners have said, ‘We need it downtown because that’s where people want to go.’”

Although she said the Farmers “will do a good job with the mall, whether there’s a conference center there or not,” Deetz said the West McCarty street site offers visitors a “unique” location for conference activities.

Donald Trabue agreed “the best proposal location is, most definitely, downtown. The mall is several miles away from the most potential overflow hotels.”

Jim Olson moved to Jefferson City “about six years ago” after retiring from the San Jose, Calif., convention center as its chief of plant operations.

“I’ve been to convention centers from coast to coast, and I’ve never seen one that wasn’t downtown,” Olson said. “In all the places I’ve been, I’ve never had to hop on a shuttle bus to go to some shopping center three or four miles away.”

Two of the speakers didn’t take sides.

Paul Van Horn said city officials need to answer a number of questions about both proposals.

“Personally, I would place a hold until we had affirmative responses for such questions,” he said. “I recommend that you walk away from the table and from verbal, tentative agreements.”

And Glen Costales said: “I think the best thing you guys can do is to punt this ball down, work up a new RFP and put it back out on the street.”

See also:

City consultant favors mall site for conference center

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