Downtown site draws most support

Final public hearing also finds some support for mall site as well as detractors for both conference center proposals

A downtown conference center got almost twice as much support Monday night as a proposed mall location, from the dozen people who addressed 10 City Council members.

But four of the 12 said neither location had an edge or that the city government isn’t ready to choose a conference center developer.

Their comments came from the last of three scheduled public hearings about proposals submitted by Jefferson City-based Farmer Development Co., for a conference center near the Capital Mall, and by Hannibal-based Ehrhardt Hospitality Group, which would place the center on West McCarty Street near the Truman State Office Building.

Attorney Stephanie Bell said a site near the Capitol offered many more options and reasons for people to return.

“The opinions of meeting planners and conference attendees will make or break this project,” Bell said. “We must use taxpayer monies to build it where it best promotes our city, and where it will have the best chance for success.”

Four others agreed, including Pat Amick, a meeting planner for three statewide associations.

“Jefferson City is the perfect meeting location” because of its central location, she said. “Downtown is the perfect location.”

She said members of the groups she represents combine their meetings with visits to lawmakers at the Capitol and various state agencies.

“They don’t want to be bothered with driving across town,” Amick said.

You-jin Han, a state employee, told the council that she moved here a little over a year ago, after living in Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Houston.

She first lived in the city’s west end by the mall where, Han reported, “I just felt a little isolated.”

After moving to a Washington Street apartment late last year, “I immediately just felt so at home. ... There’s just a lot do (downtown).”

And Peggy Landwehr, a state attorney, reminded council members their recent market study showed “planners have told you they prefer a downtown location — do not ignore the advice that you paid for.”

But David Robinson, a Columbia resident who owns stores across the Midwest, including the Mr. Bulky candy stores, told the council a mall location will attract conferences — and will help revitalize the Capital Mall after its previous owners, General Growth Inc., ignored it.

Contractor and developer Dick Otke, whose projects have included helping develop the Wildwood Crossings shopping area along Missouri Boulevard, south of the mall, told the council they should consider the mall project because “west is the area of Jeff City that’s growing, is a great spot for a convention center.”

He also said the council should consider the Farmers’ local ties, because “they’ve got strong ties to the community, are financially sound and, I think, will deliver what they promise.”

Jamie Reed, the mall’s manager, called a mall-based project “a true win-win” for the entire community, because the market study shows “the convention center will attract roughly 100,000 visitors a year to Jeff City,” which would “be a huge advantage for the mall to attract the national retailers and restaurants that the citizens are asking for.”

Frank Rycyk said the council should reject both proposals and seek new ones.

“Neither is big enough,” Rycyk explained.

He suggested the council find a way to reject the two proposals and create a new request for proposals (RFP).

Jerry Knollmeyer objected to “using taxpayer money to fund a business,” referring to the city’s plan to use $9 million in voter-approved lodgings taxes to help build the project.

And Glen Costales said both projects should be rejected because they propose changes to the city’s RFP.

Interim City Administrator Drew Hilpert reminded the council its decision can’t come until after the two companies have submitted their “final and best” conference center proposals.

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