Event center is skunked
Majority of voters say no to tax hike
Grand Junction voters thwarted a measure to build a downtown event center and renovate Two Rivers Convention Center on Tuesday night, with nearly three-quarters of them rejecting a quarter-cent sales-tax increase to pay for the projects.
Vote tallies as of 9 p.m. showed 10,129 people — nearly 71 percent — turning away Referred Measure 2A, with 4,184 people favoring it.
Proponents of the tax increase gathered to watch the returns come in, and the first round of results released by election officials prompted dejected expressions from the crowd and general disappointment.
“Obviously, we lost, but it is what it is,” campaign committee chairman Mike Anton told the crowd, while toasting their efforts. “It pisses me off beyond belief.”
Anton and others who supported the 5,200-seat event center lamented the loss of the project, which would have been home to a minor league hockey franchise and hosted dozens of other types of events.
Supporters contended the tax increase — it would have bumped up the city’s sales-tax rate from 2.75 to 3 percent — would have generated $30 million in new annual spending and jumpstarted Mesa County’s lagging economy. Opponents questioned the financial viability and necessity of the project, arguing the county has more pressing needs.
Anton, a local businessman who has been involved with plans for an event center since 2003, said he was frustrated and didn’t know what his next step would be.
“The opportunity from the ECHL, it’s gone,” he said, referencing the interest from the East Coast Hockey League in locating a team in Grand Junction, which would have been the anchor tenant for the center.
Landon Balding of Monumental Events, who was also on the campaign committee, said he believes the loss was a sign that more education was needed beyond what a 10-week campaign allowed, but he’s not discouraged.
“It wasn’t a silver bullet, it was just a piece of the puzzle and it’s not the end,” he said. “I don’t think ‘Say Yes for Grand Junction’ is going anywhere.”
Balding said there was some crossover between his group and other groups that have mobilized to support funding for schools, a community center, and other ventures in the community, as well as economic development needed to boost the economy.
“Just because this didn’t go through, it doesn’t mean that we can’t say yes to schools, that we can’t say yes to public safety,” Balding said. “We’ve got really important issues in front of us.”
Dennis Simpson, a concerned citizen who co-authored the opposing viewpoint for the municipal election voter guide, said he was glad to see voters soundly reject the measure because he believes it gave the city too much latitude in spending the revenue from the tax increase, and that it was a risky proposition.
“There was a lot of risk built into this proposal that fortunately, the voters saw that,” Simpson said. “The voters showed that they were smart enough to look past all of those advertising dollars and get down to the guts and that was it might work and it might not work.”
This marked the first time in nine years that city residents were asked to approve a sales-tax hike.
Voters in 2008 rejected a request to approve a quarter-cent increase to fund a $98 million initiative that would have funded the construction and operation of seven new public safety buildings. City councilors two years later voted to issue certificates of participation to fund a scaled-back version of the initiative.