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Your Opinion: Next step toward a conference center

Your Opinion: Next step toward a conference center

June 7th, 2012 by Randal Dent, Jefferson City in News

Dear Editor:

The first step was the need for an increased ceiling for the lodging tax from 4 percent to 7 percent, this was later granted. To assist in the approval process the former city administrator got most of the local hotel owners to sign a document saying they were on board with the tax increase if the revenues were used to build a conference center. It was specifically stated that no new hotel would accompany the conference center.

Then the city administrator goes out and makes a loosely worded contractual agreement with a hotel developer to build a hotel accompanying the conference center. Once hotel owners became aware that the plan called for a new competitor that would have significant advantages over the current hotels; all but one hotel moved to the opposition.

The City Council voted to put the lodging tax on the ballot with wording that limited the use of the funds to tourism. Lodging tax passes by some 400 votes. The city knows that the increased lodging tax revenue isn't enough to pay for what was promised. Enter Transformation. Ten million of proposed Transformation tax revenue was to be directed at the conference center which would have doubled the funds to build the original conference center. Transformation fails and this signaled the effective end of the proposed conference center.

Now Mayor Struemph is proposing we use most of the lodging tax revenue to build a scaled-down conference center attached to an existing hotel. The remaining funds would go to the MSP.

Is the conference center a good idea? Nope. Do I think it will be successful? Not a chance. But if you asked me if I thought the mayor's proposal was fair game ... I'd say yes. It spends within our means, it adds no new hotel, and there might be money left over for one of our primary tourist drawls.

We need to look at our options and make a decision. Build with the funds we have or rescind the tax. We shouldn't forget that while we sit here with our hands in our pockets, city hall is pulling money out of Jefferson City visitor's pockets to the tune of 600k a year.

When we take that money from them and put it in the "lockbox" it has roughly the same economic impact as taking the money and throwing it in a trash can. This is a time when our businesses need those visitors to have as much money in their pockets as possible.

This isn't perfect ... but it's miles better than anything else I've heard coming from McCarty Street.