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Council: Hoteliers’ proposal not on the table

Existing conference center proposals need to be rejected before alternate considered

A third hotelier has announced a possible proposal for a conference center in Jefferson City, but the City Council says that proposal will not be considered unless the other two are rejected.

Ravi and Vivek Puri, of the Puri Group, announced in a News Tribune article last week their intent to submit a proposal to the City Council for a conference center at the Truman Hotel.

But council members have yet to see any official proposal, and though no one is opposed to the Puris’ plan, council members say they believe the current process, involving two other proposals, needs to be followed to the end, meaning the Puris’ proposal would be considered only if the council rejects the proposals from Farmer Development and the Ehrhardt Hospitality Group.

“There’s a certain process that we’re following,” said 4th Ward Councilwoman Carrie Carroll. “We need to study the two that are on the table ... we couldn’t just simply add a third.”

Carroll, as well as several other council members, noted it’s difficult to comment on a proposal that hasn’t been officially presented to the city. She said while the Puris’ proposal is worth reviewing, the council needs to be fair to the two developers who responded to the council’s request for proposals, or RFP, in the first place.

Fifth Ward Councilman Ralph Bray said the Puris’ proposal needs to be talked about, but how far that conversation would go is debatable.

“Circumstances and situations seem to be changing fast and furious here as we dash for the finish line,” Bray said. “We just need to make sure that every step of the way, as we continue to this finish line for whatever decision is reached, needs to be very carefully thought out.”

Fifth Ward Councilman Larry Henry said the council’s concentration is on the proposals from Farmer Development and Ehrhardt Hospitality Group, though it’s impossible to tell what the end result will be.

“It’s intriguing nonetheless,” Henry said. “obviously, you never say never as far as looking at anything.”

Third Ward Councilman Bob Scrivner said the council is “morally bound” to following through the process that has begun with the Farmers and the Ehrhardts, and he hopes the Puris’ announcement is not just an attempt to confuse the process and create distractions.

“It may be a good proposal, but it’s a late proposal,” Scrivner said. “It’s very much after the fact.”

Second Ward Councilman Shawn Schulte said the council is in ongoing contract negotiations with the two developers who responded to the RFP and to consider the Puris’ proposal would require a change in directions.

Second Ward Councilman J. Rick Mihalevich said the council would need to reject the proposals from the Farmers and the Ehrhardts in order to consider any alternate proposal from any other developer or hotelier.

Third Ward Councilman Ken Hussey said the council has an obligation to see the current process through and if at the end of it, they decide to reject both proposals on the table, the council can opt to reopen the bid process and look at any other proposal, including the Puris.

First Ward Councilman Rick Prather said the council has to give the Farmers and Ehrhardts the opportunity to finish the process.

Scott Ehrhardt, with the Ehrhardt Hospitality Group, said the Puris’ announcement doesn’t change their plans to move forward with a conference center proposal.

“It’s interesting that the Puris are doing that. They had their chance to be part of the RFP process, just like everybody else,” Ehrhardt said. “They do have two hotels that are outside the city limits that aren’t even part of the lodging tax, and they take full advantage of that. It’s kind of interesting how they think that they are eligible to jump in at this point in time.”

Rob Kingsbury, with Farmer Development, said regardless of the Puris’ plan or whatever else is ahead, the Farmers hope to give the city the facility they want within the financial constraints set out.

“We’ve got full confidence that, regardless of what’s ahead, (the city is) going to make the right decision and handle it the most appropriate way,” Kingsbury said.

On Thursday, owners of 10 local hotels, including four hotels owned by the Puris, submitted signed statements of support for the Puri Group’s conference center proposal to the city clerk and members of the City Council. The notices of support state the hoteliers “do not believe Jefferson City’s hotel market can support an additional hotel, which would be included with the other two proposals.”

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