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      Local contractor presents final conference center proposal

      Council members (l-r) Ralph Bray, Carlos Graham, Ken Hussey and Rick Mihalevich listen to Farmer Holding Company's conference center presentation Thursday evening.

      Two competing contractors, one based in Jefferson City, handed in their final proposals for a conference hotel Thursday.

      Farmer Holding Company representatives presented their company's final proposal to the city council at a special meeting Thursday evening. Representatives from rival contractor Ehrhardt Hotels were unable to attend the meeting but turned in their proposal earlier Thursday afternoon.

      Jefferson City-based Farmer's proposal, which would build the center at the Capital Mall, has had several changes since it was last presented to the council. The amount of conference center space has been tripled to 30,000 square feet. The hotel would now contain 150 rooms, up from 126. And while the original proposal called for a separate building on the southeast corner of the mall's lot, the company's final proposal would integrate the hotel and conference space into the mall building itself. Company representatives said the meeting space would consist of a 20,000 square-foot ballroom and a separate 10,000 square-foot set of meeting rooms on the other side of the mall building to allow different types of conventions to take place simultaneously.

      Kirk Farmer, the company's vice president of operations, said while all proposed sites for the center would lose some money, the mall site is the cheapest option because the infrastructure is already there.

      "The downtown site, unfortunately, the land is owned by the state," he told KRCG 13. "We don't know when or if that will ever become available, and the cost to build a parking garage could not be borne by the developer."

      Farmer told the city council his company's proposal would not require any city funding besides the $9 million in revenue available from the lodging tax, but Third Ward councilman Ken Hussey told KRCG 13 that was not necessarily true. He said either contractor would probably take advantage of incentives like tax increment financing or property tax abatements.

      "The real question is whether the public thinks that's a worthy investment," he said.

      Almost every member of the standing-room only crowd stood up when Farmer asked them to indicate whether they supported his company's proposal, but Hussey and Fourth Ward councilman Carlos Graham said both proposals have drawn plenty of support from their constituents.

      Two public comment periods are scheduled for next week. The first will take place at noon on Tuesday and the second will start at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. Both will be held in the city council chambers. The council will select a contractor at its Nov. 18 meeting.