Our Opinion: Plot worsens in conference center saga
News Tribune editorial
Saturday, September 7, 2013
In the ongoing Jefferson City conference center saga, the plot worsens.
The most recent study commissioned by city officials — at a cost of $17,000 — revealed a conference center is expected to operate at a loss for its first decade.
Specifically, the study by Johnson Consulting anticipated annual losses of $500,000 in 2015, the first year of operation, diminishing to $55,369 in 2025.
The numbers, characterized as “worst-case projections,” would total nearly $1.8 million during the initial 11-year period.
Jefferson City officials have proposed contributing $9 million, from lodging tax revenues, to fund construction of the center, but have signaled an unwillingness to provide an operating subsidy.
In view of those parameters, the report said: “It is reasonable for the hotel developer to incur the risk associated with this project, so as to guarantee zero liability to the city after the city pays debt service.”
Operating subsidies from the city have not been ruled out by either of the two developers that have submitted proposals. They are Farmer Holding Company of Jefferson City and Ehrhardt Hospitality Group, Hannibal.
Each developer is proposing a different site. Farmer Holding would build near the Capital Mall, which it owns; Ehrhardt has proposed a downtown site on West McCarty Street.
The consultant, represented by Charles Johnson, diplomatically dodged a question on site preference. He said: “A long-term urban solution is better, but you’d have a very solid” location at the mall.
In another observation, the consultant essentially said although the city might offer a stable relationship, it is not a particularly attractive partner.
The study found the city rated best for safety, security and affordability, but worst for entertainment and nightlife, among other criteria.
Translation: You’re nice, Jefferson City, but just not exciting.
This assessment comes despite a range of efforts to increase attractions and up the “wow” factor here.
The study suggests Jefferson City officials need to re-evaluate a conference center — again.
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