Our Opinion: Developments compound confusion

News Tribune editorial

The frequency of conference center developments exceeds the ability to sort them out.

Last week, Jefferson City officials: heard testimony on conference center plans submitted by two developers; learned of a third proposal being advanced by a local hotelier; and received a request from a new organization that intends to circulate two initiative petitions opposing a tax-supported conference center.

And all this occurred in the same week the City Council voted 8-2, on a motion sought by Mayor Eric Struemph, to fire City Administrator Nathan Nickolaus, a veteran city employee who previously had served as city attorney.

Every time we begin to think this decades-long convention/conference center process cannot become more convoluted, along comes another wrinkle.

Regarding the two public hearings, testimony roughly resulted in a draw. Proponents of the Capital Mall facility proposed by Jefferson City’s Farmer Development were about equal to speakers favoring the West McCarty Street development offered by Ehrhardt Hospitality Group of Hannibal.

On Wednesday, a potential third alternative was offered by local hoteliers Ravi and Vivek Puri, who propose building a convention center on the site of the Truman Hotel property they recently purchased.

The Puri Group owns the DoubleTree by Hilton, a renovated and renamed hotel on Monroe Street in the downtown area.

Interim City Administrator and City Attorney Drew Hilpert now is exploring the legalities of considering the latest proposal, announced months after the existing two developers responded to city’s request for proposals.

In addition, Hilpert also must determine whether applicable laws permit or prohibit the initiative efforts sought by convention center opponents. Compounding the difficulty is a 10-day deadline to respond and a requirement to provide a list of corrections if the petitions are rejected.

The opposition group, The Citizens Against Convention Center Committee, ultimately seeks an election on a tax-supported conference center.

Regarding elections, Jefferson City residents have not voted on a conference center design or location, despite some contentions that they have.

Tim Stallman, chairman of the new opposition group, said Wednesday: “We had an election that defeated this plan once, it was called Transformation, and it lost by almost two-to-one.”

And John Landwehr, a former mayor, said at a public hearing: “In my opinion, the (increased lodging) tax would not have passed if ... the location was not downtown.”

Both are interpretations — note Landwehr’s “in my opinion” disclaimer — of votes on other issues.

Convention center discussions include many variables, including extrapolations and projections of what facts may mean or portend.

In a process of this complexity, decision makers are better served by focusing on facts, not inferences.

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