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Our Opinion: Fairness commended, but risky choices loom

We commend Jefferson City Council members who prioritize fairness in the convention center process.

A majority of the 10 council members told the News Tribune last week a late entrant will not be considered unless the timely proposals are rejected and the process is restarted.

In fairness to the two developers who responded to the city’s request for proposals, that’s as it should be.

As our readers will recall, the city’s two responses came from Jefferson City’s Farmer Development Corp., which proposed a facility at Capital Mall, and Ehrhardt Hospitality Group, a Hannibal-based developer that proposes a convention center on West McCarty Street. Neither proposal meets the specifications outlined in the city’s request.

Last week, local hoteliers Ravi and Vivek Puri announced their intent to submit a proposal to locate a conference center at the Truman Hotel.

The Puri Group owns the Doubletree by Hilton in the downtown area and recently purchased the Truman Hotel.

Although no formal proposal has been received by the city, the announced project removes some sticking points. Among them, the Puri Group proposed a facility with a greater number of hotel rooms and larger meeting space. In addition, the proposed facility would require no city subsidy for construction or operations.

Vivek Puri characterized the proposal as a “win-win” for Jefferson City.

What it is not, however, is “fair-fair” to the developers who already have met the city’s deadlines, presented plans publicly, responded to an updated market study commissioned by the city and heard residents’ responses at public hearings.

Officials with Farmer Development and Ehrhardt Hospitality have laid their proverbial cards on the table, and they deserve fair treatment.

Because neither developer has met the minimum requirements outlined in the city’s request, the city retains the option of rejecting both.

But restarting the process presents its own potential problems. What if the Puri Group modifies, or abandons, its proposal? What if fewer, or no, developers respond to a renewed request from the city? What if another, yet unknown, developer presents a tardy, but more attractive, offer?

Council members have taken the high road on the fairness issue, but future decisions, if anything, may prove more difficult, complex and risky.

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