Jefferson City Council rejects both conference center proposals

The Jefferson City Council overwhelmingly voted Monday night to reject both proposals for a conference center.

The capital city's conference center project is back to square one Monday after the city council rejected proposals from two developers.

Council members voted overwhelmingly to adopt a resolution declining proposals from both Ehrhardt Hospitality Group and Farmer Holding Company after a measure to enter a nonbinding, predevelopment agreement with Ehrhardt failed 4-6. Ehrhardt had proposed building a conference center and hotel on what is currently a state parking lot at the corner of Broadway and McCarty across from the Truman State Office Building, while Farmer wanted to incorporate a similar facility into the Capital Mall, which it currently owns.

During an hourlong debate, several council members said they were uncomfortable with the incentives both developers had asked for and they were unhappy the council could not get a truly final offer from either company. Fourth Ward Councilman Carlos Graham expressed frustration that each time the city appeared to have a "best and final" offer from each developer, someone would decide to make further changes to their proposal. Fifth Ward Councilman Ralph Bray said the council's continuing division over the proposals was a sign the project was not ready. He noted the lodging tax increase voters approved in 2009 is not going away anytime soon and the city still has time to revise the project.

Fourth Ward Councilwoman Carrie Tergin disagreed with many on the council, saying the city's Convention & Visitors Bureau has noted the need for a conference center. She said that agency has told her the capital city loses conferences to other cities "every day." Similarly, Second Ward Councilman Rick Mihalevich said the city had done its due diligence, noting the many closed meetings and public hearings the council had held on the subject. Mihalevich, who sponsored the measure favoring Ehrhardt, told KRCG 13 he was disappointed by the outcome.

"I really thought that we had a chance to have a conference center with the Ehrhardt proposal and it just didn't happen," he said.

Third Ward Councilman Bob Scrivner, who prefered the Capital Mall proposal, told KRCG 13 Monday's vote effectively means the conference center project is dead for now, though the council is still open to new proposals.

"There's a lot of concern on the part of the council that there was just too many unknowns," Scrivner said. "We're a year and a half into this and we're still full of unknowns about what our costs are going to be."

Carlos Graham told KRCG 13 he did not think the conference center issue was dead, but he thought the best thing was to let it sit for now.