Jefferson City conference center won't break even

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - Thursday night, the Jefferson City Council got to see a new conference center feasibility study for the first time.

The 119-page document shows the center losing between $250,000 and $500,000 per year for the first 10 years.

It's not known who would pay the six-figure subsidy.

Council members have said repeatedly that taxpayers would not pay for the center once it was up and running. Instead, they have insisted it will be self-sufficient.

Johnson Consulting, the group who created the feasibility study, states in the document they believe the mall site would be more self-sufficient, but the downtown location would a better location from an economic development standpoint, and better long-term strategy for the city.

The consultant puts the deficit cost on the developer: "It is reasonable for the hotel developer to incur the risk associated with this project, so as to guarantee zero liability to the City after the City pays the debt service."

The two proposed sites include the area behind the Capitol Plaza Hotel downtown and the Capital Mall, west of downtown.

The Farmer Group recently purchased the mall and is proposing a 200-room hotel with 40,000-square feet of conference space. That's up from an original plan where they offered a 127 room hotel with under 20,000 square feet of meeting space.

The Ehrhardt Hospitality Group is proposing a 150 to 200-room hotel downtown with 30,000 square feet of conference space.

The study found 66 percent of respondents preferred the downtown location, where just 18 percent said the conference center would be favorable at the mall.

Capital Mall has fallen on hard times in recent years and has lost several stores. Some council members say the hotel and conference center could breathe new life into the dated complex.

If the city fails to get a conference center larger than 30,000 square feet, the Capital Plaza Hotel and Truman Hotel will still be the largest conference spaces in town. Some council members expressed their worry that the new center could put another conference out of business and create another empty space in Jefferson City.

The council plans to hold public hearings, but specific dates have not been announced.

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