Residents voice support, concern over conference center

Darryl Winegar voices his support for a conference center near Capital Mall Thursday.

The Jefferson City council Thursday hosted the second of three public hearings for a proposed conference center.

Attendees in support of the conference center told council members their preference on the two possible locations.

Those in favor of a site downtown near Capitol Plaza Hotel said it would bolster the main attractions to Jefferson city; the state Capitol and downtown businesses.

Those who preferred a site near Capital Mall said it could cut down on future subsidies, bring big retailers to the area and allow for future growth.

"As economic development zones in the city go, I think the west end provides an awful lot of future growth and future potential over the next five to 10 years," Jefferson City resident Darryl Winegar said.

But not everyone is keen on the idea of bringing a conference center to the Capital City.

Tim Stallman, chairman of the newly-formed Citizens Against Convention Center committee, said the conference center would fail and be a waste of money.

He wants the voters to decide whether to build the conference center.

"Yesterday we filed two petitions with the Jefferson City city clerk's office to put this to a vote of the people," Stallman said.

Both ordinances have to do with a four percent lodging tax for "promotion of tourism" that voters passed years ago.

The first eliminates the lodging tax and stops the city from using any tax or public money for the conference center.

The second keeps the lodging tax, but says that the city cannot use it for conference center construction.

Stallman said they will decide which to pursue in the near future.

Somewhere in the middle of the support and opposition is Vik Puri of Jefferson City-based Puri Group of Enterprises.

Puri, whose company owns several hotels in both Jefferson City and Columbia, thinks a conference center would benefit the city. However, he said the current proposals are flawed.

"We're not doing anything more than taking the business from that hotel and transferring it to another one. And if we want another empty building standing in Jefferson City then by all means, that's the course of action we want to take," Puri said.

Puri offered the council a third proposal involving renovations to the Truman Hotel, keeping the same number of rooms but adding conference space.

Ward 5 councilman Larry Henry said right now the council is still concentrating on the original two proposals, but they may consider Puri's in the future.

Henry led the hearing because Mayor Eric Struemph had a prior commitment.

All council members who were unable to attend Thursday's hearing will be provided video of the session.

The next public hearing is Monday, September 23 at 5:30 at City Hall.