The Great Bend City Council has entered a minefield. Council members must now take care where they step.
The issue at hand is the wayward Great Bend Convention Center. Its it a white elephant, an albatross dangling around the city’s neck or a valuable resource that will help spur economic development?
The council wisely held this past Tuesday night a special meeting at the center to discuss the center. The invited, no they encouraged everyday local citizens to attend and offer input on what went from $1 million remodeling project to what could be a $4 million new facility. Although this was a good idea, it should have been held long ago, back when the center first took center stage.
But, better late than never.
However, what was missing from what was billed as a public comment session were the public comments. There were a few folks who spoke up. One said the city should go for broke and build a new center. Another said the existing site was just fine and only needed some tender loving care. A couple said the adjoining hotel was a blight and an embarrassment.
But, did anyone balk at the pricetag? City officials tossed around the multi-million costs and the potential need to raise the city’s mill levy by four mills to pay the tab. No one questioned this and it wasn’t until a council member brought it up was it even talked about.
We may chastise the council for not seeking community guidance earlier, but when they did, they didn’t receive much help.
And, help is needed. There are several issues here:
• Does the city just slap on some paint and roll out some new carpet to make the existing center passable and usable? It still needs new heating and air conditioning which will cost about $800,000.
• How about an extensive remodeling? This could cost $3.5 million, and it would still have the same abysmal land-locking parking problem and what surveys say is a drag on the facility’s potential.
• What about an entirely new, shiny center at the same location? That carries a slightly higher cost and the same drawbacks as above.
• We could build new somewhere else. That would be really cool, but would require the city to buy the land. The architects sure painted a pretty picture.
These questions need to be asked, but there are a couple other questions that are more important.
• Do we need a convention center at all?
• Would a community center be sufficient?
Just like with the development of the downtown, Great Bend is struggling to find its identity. The Convention Center debate is an important facet of that struggle.
We all need to do some serious soul searching.
Those who support this must be willing to compromise and listen to other points of view. Those who oppose it must look at the big picture and what is in the best future interest of Great Bend.
City officials, by their own admission, said such a center will not turn a profit. So, this building, whatever shape it takes, will have to be something the whole community is passionate about and willing to support.
There is still time to ponder the issue and contact our local leaders. It is hoped they would be open to constructive ideas or comments and allow them to steer the discussion.