The Great Bend City Council has much to ponder in the coming weeks and months as members decide how to operate the city-owned convention center, a facility attached at the hip to the privately owned Highland Hotel.
This topic occupied much of the council’s meeting Monday night at City Hall as City Administrator Howard Partington presented a host of management options. These ranged from the status quo of having the Highland owners manage the center to having the city handle everything from booking to food service.
“You can pick and choose what you want to do,” Partington said. Other possibilities included having the city manage the center and contracting with the Highland for the food and opening the door to outside caterers.
Admittedly, he said, his figures and suggestions left room for adjustment. The city can set center rental rates and meal costs.
But, in each of the scenarios, the expenses outstripped the revenues. “None of these make a bunch of money,” he said.
Partington said his estimates were based on two two-day events at the center each month, or 48 days out of the year. These were figured to involve 200 attendees, and the hall rental was $600 per day or two days for $1,000.
However, he said, if upgrades are made, then occupancy may increase. It was built in the 1980s and hasn’t been improved much since.
As it is, there are not enough restrooms, the carpet is wearing out, the sprinklers and the lighting need to be upgraded, the movable walls are in bad shape, the heating and air conditioning need to be replaced and handicapped accessibility needs to be addressed. And, the city has to come up with a way of paying for these changes.
“I think you need to do a lot more study on this,” said Loren Unruh, Great Bend Convention and Visitor’s Bureau president. “You need to set a date, shut it down and fix it.”
This would mean juggling booked events. Some might have to be cancelled. It is already booked through November and there are some activities booked through 2014.
“This is a complex issue,” said Girish Amin, son-in-law of Highland Hotel owner Ishwar Patel. “We’ve tried to put some sanity around it.”
Amin said the existing arrangement would naturally be best for the hotel owners. But, he is willing to accommodate the city’s requests.
But, “we’re dancing partners,” council member Marty Keenan said. He asked Amin if they are willing to make improvements to the hotel side.
“We already are,” Amin said. They are doing so as is feasible business wise.
They are getting ready to open a new coffee shop, worked on the pool and painted all 174 rooms. They will continue as, “time and resources allow.”
But, Amin said, a lot depends on what the council does. The Highland has about one third of Great Bend’s 500 motel rooms and they are only full during a convention.
None the less, all those rooms have to be maintained, even when empty. As for the center, conventions are only 27 percent of the business with the rest coming from weddings, reunions, banquets and other events.
Partington said they want a facility the community can be proud of and that is competitive. It will be going head to head against such venues as the new $3.5 million center in Newton.
The council asked that Partington bring back renovation plans from the architect, a time line and a cost estimate to the next meeting. Members are looking a short-, medium- and long-term plans for the center that have the center completed by next year at the latest.
Partington said finding records from previous Highland owners has been challenging. This made making cost/benefit estimates difficult.
A resolution to re-install three “no trucks allowed” signs at Second and Hubbard, Second and Baker and Third and Baker failed by 5-3 Monday night.
On May 7, city of Great Bend Public Works Director Don Craig told the council his department removed the three signs which, he said, didn’t meet the state requirements anyway. He had been unable to find any record of the signs’ installation.
He was asked to return to the council Monday to address the issue. He brought with him a sample of the old sign and one that would meet the guidelines.
His staff checked resolutions back to 1973, council minutes from the 1940s through 80s and three sign studies done in 1962, 1978 and 1984. They found no record of the signs.
He knows they were there in 1993. So, they went up between 1985 and then.
There is a city ordinance banning trucks over 6,000 pounds from residential streets. Many modern pickups may weigh that much, but the council didn’t want to dive into changing rules Monday. Many of the areas involved are zoned for either commercial or manufacturing.
In hindsight, Craig said he probably should have come to the council before removing the signs. But, they would have to come down anyway to make room for new signs that meet state codes.
The council may revisit the issue in the future, possibly addressing the weight ordinance.
In other business, the council:
• Approved cereal malt beverage license request from the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce for the Barton County Courthouse Square for June 2, and from Britt Spaugh Zoo for June 1. Both events are part of June Jaunt.
• Approved a $133,304.50 change order for the Sewer Rehabilitation Project. This is a deduction from the original cost of the project which has been in the works for about three years.
• Approved an abatement at 1431 21st on property owned by Daniel Riggs for accumulated refuse.