Provided city staff can reach an acceptable agreement with Farmers Bank and Trust officers, the city of Great Bend could take up ownership of the Great Bend Convention Center on 10th Street.
After discussion Monday night, the Great Bend City Council unanimously approved accepting a $500,000 donation that would allow the city to purchase the facility.
It was suggested the change could also make it easier for the hotel to be successfully marketed, because there have been companies interested in the hotel that are not interested in also taking up the convention center, the council was told.
While the city would be given the money without stipulations on how the facility would be run, it is clear that there would be expenses for the city.
The structure is not in poor shape, but it has not been modernized for some time, which makes marketing it difficult, so it would be necessary to spend an estimated $600,000 on improvements over the next several years.
The city is discussing increasing the guest tax by 1 percent to help raise money. City Administrator Howard Partington noted that would raise about $47,000 a year.
Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Cris Collier, who works with conventions on a regular basis, explained that in Kansas, 5 percent is the average guest tax. The city could still market at 6 percent, but she said going any higher would start to negatively impact marketing.
Local hotel owner Loren Unruh stressed that Great Bend is in an enviable position to have this facility, even if there are some problems. He noted that Newton is spending millions of dollars now to build a convention facility.
And Hays is trying to figure out in today’s economy how it can do the same thing, because that community simply doesn’t have large meeting spaces.
The convention center allows Great Bend to seat 1,000 people at one time. That is unheard of in most communities.
Unruh said the community needs to recognize what foresight Harper Builders had to have constructed this facility and to work together to make sure it stays a convention center.
The agreement that will be negotiated will involve making sure that whoever owns the hotel will allow overflow parking from convention events, that there is a sharing on utilities and that there would be agreements to provide food service.
It was urged that there is every reason to believe that who ever owns the hotel will want to manage the convention center. There just is not an interest for purchase. The hotel will be a large enough project, it was suggested.
On the other hand, it was added, if, in the future, it would be advantageous for the city to sell the facility, it could certainly do so.
Partington and City Attorney Bob Suelter will work on the purchase agreement, it was explained.
Chamber Director Jan Peters told the council that discussion on this issue goes back several months as a group of “concerned citizens” made it clear they were concerned that if the hotel couldn’t be sold with the convention center, then that facility might end up being sold for some other use, leaving the city in the lurch.
That was when the group raised the $500,000 in question.
Partington told the council that the group did not place any stipulations on the city.
All the contributors would get from the deal would be a tax break on the contributions, since it will be handled through the Great Bend Foundation, the city administrator added.