JC Council approves both conference center proposals

By a vote of 6-4, the Jefferson City Council decided to move forward with both proposals for a conference center, essentially waiting until later to make a final choice.

One location is downtown on Broadway at East McCarty Street, and would be constructed by the Ehrhardt Group. The other is at Capital Mall and would be constructed by Farmer Holding Company, the same company which owns Capital Mall.

Supporters said Monday's vote was the most equitable solution because of uncertainties the city faces with both developers, including issues pertaining to land acquisition and the cost for construction of additional parking.

The majority of people who spoke during Monday's public hearing said they were not in favor of either proposal, and that the council should vote to reject both proposals.

Some members of the Council shared their sentiments and held out for that action until the end.

"At this point, neither one is right," said 4th Ward Councilwoman Carrie Carroll. "Neither one is outstanding. Until they're outstanding, they're not going to be capable of getting our nine million dollars until we are enthused that this is right."

Although Councilman Ken Hussey initially introduced a motion to reject both proposals, there were concerns from other council members that doing so would send the whole process back to square one.

Interim City Administrator Drew Hilpert said so far, Jefferson City has spent about $40,000 out of pocket on this issue. Not making a final decision, he said, would cost the city even more money.

Still, however, Mayor Eric Streumph was pleased with the outcome.

"I think we've been at this a long time, I think we deserve to get some unanswered questions answered on both sides, from both developers," Streumph said. "I look forward to working as fast as we can to get to the bottom of what the council likes and truly doesn't like about each, get a contract for one and see where we go from there."

Despite the slowdown, Kirk Farmer of the Farmer Holding Company said he was happy the Council made the decision it did.

"It could have gone either way, but we were pleased to see the council push both plans forward," Farmer said. "It will really give the public a chance to vet us out."

Hilpert said it could take anywhere from two months to a year before the next step of the process is complete and contracts are in writing.