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Our Opinion: Mall proposal emerges as more feasible of two options

Our Opinion: Mall proposal emerges as more feasible of two options

News Tribune editorial

November 17th, 2013 in News

If Jefferson City is serious about wanting a conference center, the City Council on Monday will advance the Farmer Holding Co. proposal to build a facility connected to Capital Mall.

We understand the support for a downtown location. We, like many of those proponents, are located downtown, and a conference center in the core area would offer proximity to the Capitol Complex and help revitalize the downtown area.

A downtown location has been assumed for some time, but never specified. A voter-approved lodging tax increase for a convention center did not specify downtown, nor did the city's request for proposals, which resulted in the two submissions now under consideration.

Council members on Monday may decide among two conference center proposals on the table. One is from Hannibal-based Ehrhardt Hospitality Group to build a facility on West McCarty Street in the downtown area; the other is from Farmer Holding Co. of Jefferson City to build a conference center at Capital Mall, which it owns and plans to renovate with help from an economic development incentive from the city, referred to as Tax Increment Financing (TIF).

Of the two proposals, the Farmer plan is more feasible and doable for Jefferson City and its taxpayers. The city - which continues to face a budget shortfall - will spend comparatively less time, energy, effort and money to pursue the Capital Mall proposal. Among its amenities, the mall proposal is linked to a hotelier and offers ample parking. And, the developers have indicated they will provide complimentary shuttle service to the downtown and other areas of the city.

From an economic development standpoint, the combination of conference center, hotel and mall - all designed to attract people - creates a beneficial shared synergy. The case also can be made that local developers will have both a business interest and community interest in the success of the project.

An either/or decision is not the only option for council members. They can vote to advance both for further negotiations or reject both.

Advancing both would indicate the passion for a downtown site trumps an alternative site supported both by the math and the recommendation of the consultant hired by council.

Rejecting both returns the city to the proverbial "square one" on the issue.

The Farmer plan to build a conference at the mall is not perfect, but it is the most workable proposal that has been on city government's table in decades.

If council members are serious about acting on, not just talking about, a conference center, they will vote to advance to the development phase with Farmer Holding Co. and negotiate the best possible agreement on behalf of the city and its taxpayers.