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City, BCC form Convention Center alliance
new deh city council pic
Barton Community College President Carl Heilman, at the podium, and BCC Trustee Chairman Mike Johnson make a presentation about a cooperative use of the Great Bend Convention Center to the City Council Monday night. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

In other business Monday night, the Great Bend City Council:
• Approved a motion to adopt ordinance exempting certain the Fuller Industries property from property taxes for economic development purposes. The action was requested for the acquisition of buildings and equipment after Fuller Industries was purchased by local investors. The exemption is good for 10 years.
• Authorized Mayor Mike Allison to sign the annual township fire contracts for the calendar year beginning Feb. 1, as recommended by Fire Chief Mike Napolitano. Under the agreements, Great Bend Township will pay the city $47,618, Liberty Township will pay $14,329, South Bend Township will pay $21,777, and Buffalo Township will pay $23,819.
• Heard the monthly economic development report from Great Bend Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Jan Peters.
• Approved abatements at 1308 Morphy, owned by Joseph Farris for accumulation of refuse (AOR); 701 Stone, owned by August Sandy, for AOR; 231 Fruit, owned by Manuel Tavarez Valdez, for AOR; 313 Third, owned by Janet Neighbors, for AOR and motor vehicle nuisance (MVN); and 215 Hubbard, owned by Jesus and Maria Olave, for AOR and MVN.
• Named Hannalore Kitts to the Central Kansas Community Corrections Advisory Board.
• Named council members Allene Owen and Mitch Haney to the committee to select a new city clerk. Some strong applications have been submitted.

You could almost feel the sense of relief fill the Great Bend City Council chambers Monday night as the council approved entering into a partnership with Barton Community College taking the development of the embattled Convention Center in a new direction.
“This is a change in vision,” said City Administrator Howard Partington. “It is very exciting.”
BCC President Carl Heilman and Board of Trustees Chairman Mike Johnson made a presentation regarding workforce training and economic development opportunities utilizing the center. Their idea was for the city to work with BCC and other entities to explore how to develop the project, Heilman said.
The move comes over eight months of wrangling with the center’s fate. “Sometimes rewards come from patience,” Partington said.
“Competitive communities align the three Es,” Heilman said. These are education, economic development and employment.
“The components must be managed by a public/private partnership,” he said. Involved should be colleges, employers, chambers of commerce, elected officials and state job service personnel.
Heilman said the center could be used for career fairs, trade shows, training and mass hiring events that would benefit the college and its career technical education efforts. At the same time, it could still be used for chamber gatherings, private events and other functions of a convention center.
While the convention business is sagging, the heightened focus on non-degree education is a national trend, Heilman said. This will enable the center to continue its traditional role while serving other uses.
BCC has an enrollment of 17,000 students. Of those, 40 percent are in the college’s 73 technical programs, showing how important this move can be.
Johnson said the college has been mulling over the idea for six months. In fact, BCC officials had considered building a new facility on campus to house it.
Heilman said the college may be able to step in and help fund work to the center. “By working together, we can find the resources.
“We have to get outside the turf issues,” Heilman said. “You don’t want to go extinct.”
The next step, the president said, is to identify other partners. These could include the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce, KansasWorks, Barton County and Unified School District 428. These entities could have offices in the building as well.
With this information in hand, the council then voted to keep the center open as is through the end of 2014. Various painting, cleaning and other repairs have already been made. “It is interesting to see what a little TLC will do,” Partington said.
More improvements are planned. These could include a total repainting of the interior, more deep cleaning, all new carpet and what could be $60,000 for new air conditioning and heating, and any big-ticket items would require council approval.
“We can begin booking events,”Partington said.
This move doesn’t mean the council can’t come back and make changes, he said answering a concern from council member Allen Owen.
“People want to move forward with this,” Owen said, noting comments she’s heard from constituents. “Do you have to wait that long?”
The council is still considering a new convention center sometime down the road.