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Jefferson City Council divided on MSP developer ahead of possible Monday vote

by Emily Cole | May 31, 2020 at 5:05 a.m. | Updated May 31, 2020 at 1:41 p.m.
The Missouri State Penitentiary's grounds appear quiet and empty May 7, 2020.

The Jefferson City Council faces a Monday night vote to select a master developer to move forward with for the Missouri State Penitentiary site, but the council is divided on which proposal to accept.

The council's Monday agenda includes two resolutions, each selecting one of the two possible developers as the master developer of the 32-acre site.

One resolution would select the St. Louis-based Chesterfield Hotels and Arcturis team, and the other the locally based Farmer Companies.

Four council members plan to support the Chesterfield group; three have expressed support for Farmer Companies.

The other three council members have not shared their final decisions.

The ultimate decision could still go either way.


Four council members - Ward 4 Councilman Ron Fitzwater, Ward 1 Councilman Hank Vogt, Ward 2 Councilwoman Laura Ward and Ward 5 Councilman Mark Schreiber - said they plan to support the Chesterfield proposal. Fitzwater and Schreiber are co-sponsoring the Chesterfield resolution.

The Chesterfield proposal, which would begin with a hotel and conference center at the site and phase in future mixed-use development, has a large amount of potential but a higher level of financial risk due to its size and use of public investment.

The mixed-use possibilities of the property are an advantage in the Chesterfield group's favor, Vogt said.

"All the mixed-use items are a plus, and I think will draw people year-round, during the week for conferences and on the weekend more for entertainment," Vogt said. "I think it will be used and will draw a wider variety of customers to the area."

As someone with an interest in youth sports, Fitzwater said, he understands the draw of the addition of a sports complex to the city but disagrees about the placement.

"I just don't think in this situation, that what they've proposed meets what the long-term vision is of people that look at that prison site," Fitzwater said. "There's excitement about youth sports. I just haven't bought into the concept of using prime riverfront property for that piece of it."

Those who support the Chesterfield plan say it aligns more closely with the expectations in the developer request, a 2004 Master Plan created by the MSP Community Partners and the state/city real estate contract.

A third-party study by Baker Tilly municipal advisors also reached that conclusion.

Baker Tilly determined the Chesterfield group more closely followed the MSP master plan as a general guide, while Farmer Companies did not seem to follow it. The master plan called for more internal infrastructure and multiple, diverse uses for the site.

However, only the city/state real estate contract is binding, and Baker Tilly determined the Farmer Companies proposal does comply with the contract's primary and secondary proposed uses.

Farmer Companies

In a joint statement Friday, Ward 5 Councilman Jon Hensley, Ward 3 Councilwoman Erin Wiseman and Ward 3 Councilwoman Ken Hussey voiced their support for Farmer Companies. They are also co-sponsoring the resolution in favor of that proposal.

Their statement reads, in part: "Based on all of the data and other information provided to this point, the proposal submitted by the Farmers' Holding Company appears most likely to succeed in transforming the MSP site into a strong, valuable asset for our community. Their plan to create a best in class, one of its kind in central Missouri, athletic complex for regional tournament use, as well as local use, will attract tens of thousands of new visitors to town, and tens of millions of new dollars to our economy, annually."

The Farmer Companies proposal of a conference center near their hotel on Missouri Boulevard and the development of athletic fields or a park space at MSP has less uncertainty, but doesn't offer as much economic potential and takes the major development away from the MSP site, according to the Baker Tilly report.

But Hensley, Wiseman and Hussey expressed concerns over the feasibility of the Chesterfield proposal.

"The Chesterfield plan is a beautiful proposal. The variety of uses proposed is great, and I know that lines up with how a lot of people were envisioning that space to be used for the last several years," Hensley said. "It's proposing a wider variety of uses, but that's where our concern about feasibility, finance-ability and deliver-ability comes in."

Wiseman said she is primarily concerned with the financial aspects of the decision.

"I want to know that somebody's not promising us something or selling us an idea and it's never going to come to fruition," Wiseman said. "I'm not somebody who is going to go and run after the biggest and shiniest idea because it's the biggest and shiniest idea."

While both plans outline potential financial aspects including private financing, public financing, tax incentive programs and use of the city's lodging tax fund, more detailed and finalized financial planning will be part of future negotiations with the chosen developer.

"I want to know that the group can finance it or they have alternative ideas for financing," Wiseman said. "That's going to probably be my driving factor in my vote - can the group provide us something that's useful to the community, and can they finance it, or are they going to do just a little bit and then say, 'Well, can't give you the rest.'"

Like the others, Hussey is concerned about the feasibility of the Chesterfield proposal.

"For me, a weakness is I don't know about the feasibility financially to make that whole plan work," Hussey said.

In their joint statement, the council members said the financial concerns about the plan were too great.

"The Arcturis proposal would require up to $100,000,000 from taxpayers (though the exact amount is difficult to determine from the figures they provided), and there's simply no plan for delivering or paying for anything beyond their hotel and the conference center," they wrote in the statement. "Our decision has to be based on more than pretty pictures. Once you dig into it, there is not enough reliable substance in the (Chesterfield)/Arcturis proposal to justify moving it forward."

The Farmer Companies plan has less uncertainty, Hensley said.

"The cost is significantly lower and for that reason, there are significantly decreased concerns about finance-ability," Hensley said. "The particular use they're proposing, making a high-quality space attractive to travelling youth sports events, it's a potentially lucrative path for us."

Still on the fence

While most members of the council have made their decision, a few have not.

Ahead of the vote, the council is still mixed and undecided on the final decision, with some members expressing a desire to continue collecting public feedback and consider the plans until Monday.

Ward 4 Councilman Carlos Graham, Ward 2 Councilman Rick Mihalevich and Ward 1 Councilman David Kemna all said they have not reached a decision.

Graham said he wants to collect as much public comment and feedback as possible as part of his decision through conversations with residents and the online public survey the city conducted.

"I continue to receive phone calls from my constituents," Graham said. "I will make my decision on Monday at some point, but I want to say that it's not about Carlos. Whatever vote I decide to make, I've based it on what I've heard from residents in Ward 4."

Mihalevich said he wanted to remain open-minded and not make a decision too soon. Mihalevich previously supported the Chesterfield plan as a member of the Missouri State Community Partners, along with Fitzwater, Schreiber and Mayor Carrie Tergin.

Kemna said he wanted to wait to make a public decision until the council had heard final reports from both developers.

"Until everyone has their last word, I'm going to refrain from sharing where I'm leaning," Kemna said. "I think it's only fair to (the developers)."

Resolutions need to be approved by at least six council members to pass. In the event of a 5-5 tie, Tergin would cast the deciding vote. She has previously shared her support of the Chesterfield plan.

Public feedback

During a public forum at its last meeting, the council heard support primarily for the Chesterfield plan from the community.

"They feel like it has the greatest amount of potential economic benefit and best use of the property," Mihalevich said. "I'd say that has been the consensus."

Hussey said he has heard a lot of support for the Chesterfield proposal, although primarily due to one possible use of the space.

"There was a lot of attention paid to the ice arena that was included in their plan," Hussey said. "But I don't necessarily equate that to someone being supportive of the whole concept."

Fitzwater said he has seen some support in written comments to the council for Farmer Companies' proposal of soccer fields.

Several council members mentioned feedback with no preference of a plan.

Wiseman said most of her conversations with the public have been related to expressing that feeling and gathering information, not necessarily choosing a side.

"I think, generally, people want to see something done with MSP, and I think we all do," Wiseman said. "That was the purpose of getting that land."

Hensley said he has heard some concerns from residents about the development.

"The feedback has really centered on people's long-term concerns about cost and potential debt, and just encouraging the council to be focused on making the right long-term decision for the city," Hensley said

Next steps

Regardless of the choice the council makes Monday, this is not the end of the decision-making, and the vote does not enter the city into a contract with the chosen developer.

If the council approves a developer, they and the city will have until December to create a redevelopment agreement, according to the resolutions. If no agreement is made by Dec. 31, the resolution expires.

"There's nothing etched in stone," Schreiber said. "We haven't signed anything on the dotted line, so we'll have to work out those various concerns and the strengths and weaknesses of whatever proposal is selected."

Once the choice is made, the council can more easily move forward with specific negotiations.

"It's kind of the analogy of getting engaged - we still have a lot of steps to go through before we do the final contract," Fitzwater said.

Hussey said the decision at this stage is less about the plan and more about the developer to move forward with - because the plans can be adjusted once a developer is chosen.

Regardless of what they support, all of the council members said they want to make the decision they feel is best for the community and the future of Jefferson City.

"We all want to see the property developed in the right way and in a manner that is beneficial to the residents of the City of Jefferson," Schreiber said.

Print Headline: City Council divided on MSP developer ahead of possible Monday vote


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