Outside groups play role in the conference center proposals

If the Jefferson City Council opts to move one conference center proposal forward to the next phase on April 7, many details still will need to be worked out including aspects of both proposals that deal with outside entities.

The City Council is expected to make a decision between two conference center proposals April 7. The proposal from Jefferson City-based Farmer Holding Co. includes a 61,000-square-foot conference center to be located within the Capital Mall, with a 127-room hotel attached and a total conference center cost of roughly $14 million. The hotel itself would cost just under $14 million.

The proposal from Hannibal-based Ehrhardt Hospitality Group includes a nearly 45,000-square-foot conference center in the 300 block of West McCarty Street, with a 150-room hotel attached. The conference center would cost $13.8 million and the hotel itself would cost $15 million.

But both proposals include aspects that deal with outside organizations. The Ehrhardt proposal includes the potential for additional breakout space to be provided by agreements with the Capitol Plaza and Truman State Office Building. It also includes taxing incentives that would levy an additional 2 percent sales tax on the Capitol Plaza.

City Attorney Drew Hilpert has said Capitol Plaza representatives have not been part of discussions or negotiations with the Ehrhardts.

Cyndi McDonald, general manager of the Capitol Plaza, said if a conference center is built next to the Capitol Plaza, the hotel would benefit from working with the new facility for overflow.

“That’s typically what you do in a city where you have a convention center in a downtown location, you work together to fill the space,” McDonald said.

McDonald referred the News Tribune’s inquiry to John Q. Hammons Hotels & Resorts, which owns the Capitol Plaza.

Sheri Smith, spokesperson for John Q. Hammons Hotels & Resorts, said the company is regularly approached by other businesses looking to collaborate, but, at least for now, the company “has no plans to participate in a proposal with Ehrhardt Hospitality Group.”

“Furthermore, hotel ownership has no current plans to encourage a proposed 2 percent sales tax increase … to help cover costs of a new local conference center and attached hotel,” Smith said in an email.

Ryan Burns, spokesperson for the Office of Administration, said the idea of partnering to use space at the Truman State Office Building has not been discussed, but “the state would certainly be willing to discuss all potential proposals.”

The city has been in negotiations with the state for the site that would be used for the Ehrhardts’ proposed conference center. Burns said the state would need 185 parking spaces in exchange for the property.

The Farmers’ proposal includes a request to keep the 3 percent of the lodging tax imposed on the new hotel, normally dedicated to the operations of the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), for the project itself. Hilpert has noted the city needs to check and make sure such a proposal would be allowed under state statutes.

Katherine Reed, communications manager for the CVB, said the understanding is that the 3 percent cannot “be directly pledged to the project; however the CVB will assist (the city) in structuring an agreement beneficial to everyone.”

Reed said Diane Gillespie, executive director of the CVB, had not been aware of the Farmers’ request. She said if the Farmers’ project is moved forward, the CVB would work with the city on an agreement “that would address any additional marketing expenses the CVB would incur.”

See also:

Council leans toward rejecting both conference center plans

Developer: Decision to toss both proposals would be disappointing

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