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A complex issue
City must mull convention center carefully
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The Great Bend City Council Monday night discussed the convention center, which it now owns, and the center’s relationship with the adjacent and privately owned Highland Hotel
Some history is in order. Farmers Bank and Trust owned both the hotel and convention center. Last August, Ambika Enterprises, a partnership between husband and wife Tejal and Amarish Patel of Concorida, and an uncle Ishwar Patel of Vancouver, Canada, bought the hotel portion. The family, which already operates smaller hotels in Concorida and Beatrice, Neb., officially took over the hotel portion of the Highland Complex Aug. 23.
In June, the council approved utilizing $500,000 donated by an anonymous group of local residents to purchase the convention center. The funds were handled through the Great Bend Foundation.
 The Highland has 174 rooms. This is about one third of Great Bend’s 500 motel rooms.
Construction on the main portion of the building was started in 1962. The convention center and office complex, which was constructed in 1984, contain about 25,000 square feet. Formerly the Great Bend Holiday Inn, the Highland sold previously in March 2003.  
The years have been rough on the center. 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.
“It’s starting to look old,” City Attorney Bob Suelter told the council Monday.
In short, the city wants to make improvements, but the council wanted assurances from the Highland owners that they were equally committed to renovations. After all, the hotel and the convention center share a symbiotic relationship.
Council members also wanted to make sure customer service is paramount.
The hotel owners are on the same page. They realize the two feed off of one another. But, they have to mind their business plan and bottom line.
So, City Administrator Howard Partington presented several scenarios. These ranged from continuing to have the Highland owners manage the center to having the city handle everything from booking to food service. Other possibilities included having the city manage the center and contracting with the Highland for the food and opening the door to outside caterers.
In none of these does the city make much, if any, money.
What the city has to do is decide its role is in this complex issue. Is it one of being in the convention business? Does it only want to be involved so the center gets its upgrades and remains a viable economic tool for Great Bend?
Lastly, it has to make sure the center doesn’t become an albatross around its neck. The purchase money may have been donated, but the repairs, maintenance and upkeep will come out of our pockets.
Dale Hogg