Our Opinion: Can combined facility serve two masters?

News Tribune editorial

The higher the expectation, the greater the potential for disappointment.

Jefferson City officials are exploring the possibility of merging the city’s long-held desire for a conference center with the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department’s plans to build a multipurpose building.

The idea has gained traction in the aftermath of the City Council’s recent vote to reject two conference center proposals, the latest in a decades-long series of fits and starts.

We don’t mean to put a damper on creative thinking, but we caution against “irrational exuberance” — to borrow a phrase from former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan.

The obvious common denominator is that both are multi-million-dollar projects, which create an incentive to explore whether a merger could be mutually beneficial, from the standpoint of efficiency and cost.

If exploration proceeds, some obstacles — identified by Parks, Recreation and Forestry Director Bill Lockwood — must not be overlooked or minimized.

Those obstacles include differences in purpose, financing and location.

• Purpose: The purpose of a conference center — and increase in the city’s lodging tax — is to increase tourism. The purpose of a multipurpose building is to accommodate area residents.

• Financing: The City Council committed $9 million from the lodging tax for conference center construction, but has balked at an ongoing subsidy. In contrast, parks commissioners plan on subsidizing multipurpose building operations.

• Location: Although the council accepted conference center proposals for locations throughout the city, some city officials support a downtown location. The identified location for a multipurpose building is Riverside Park, on the city’s east side.

Among these concerns, we believe the difference in purpose presents the biggest hurdle. We would be surprised if a consolidated structure effectively can serve two masters — tourists and local residents.

Our preference is to shelve the conference center, again, and proceed with parks’ multipurpose building.

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