A rebuilt engine

In the wake of last fall’s failed bid to get voters to approve a sales tax hike for a $60 million event center complex, city officials faced the unsavory prospect of sinking millions into the aging Two Rivers Convention Center just to maintain its status as a money loser.

They had already lowered the city’s subsidy of the operation by striking a deal with a private vendor to manage the facility. It was a smart move because it capped the city’s losses and even set the stage for a profit-sharing arrangement if the vendor can ever nudge the operation into the black.

But the outdated facility doesn’t have the event space to attract the kind of conventions — in scale or number —needed push the convention center toward profitability and turn it into the kind economic powerhouse the ballot measure imagined.

That will change if the City Council and the Downtown Development Authority agree to a public-private partnership that will provide the infusion of capital needed to give the facility a facelift and add event space in the form of a junior ballroom in an adjoining hotel.

This is a good deal for taxpayers because it achieves much of what the ballot measure intended without the financial risk.

As explained by the Sentinel’s Joe Vaccarelli, the proposal works like this: The Reimer brothers — Kevin and Steve, who already own three downtown hotels — would spend $12.5 million to $14 million to build a hotel attached to Two Rivers.

The hotel would be built on the existing Two Rivers parking lot, so the Reimers wouldn’t have to pay for the land. The hotel would include a 10,000-square-foot ballroom to which Pinnacle Venue Services — the private company that manages Two Rivers, the Avalon and big shows at Las Colonias Amphitheater — would have exclusive access for staging conventions.

The DDA would issue $6 million in debt to finance convention center improvements and the city would repay the DDA $3 million to cover its half.

An independent study suggested Two Rivers needed $7.5 million in upgrades just to keep what’s already there functional. But that didn’t solve the space problem. The total went up to $15.5 million to include a recommended second ballroom.

So the city is getting the $15.5 million in upgrades it needs to optimize its asset for $6 million. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The Reimers have plans for at least one more hotel downtown and likely two, giving Grand Junction the bed capacity to be considered for bigger conventions — the kind that can bring 1,200 conference goers to town for five days at a time.

This project has the potential to catalyze development on the south side of the downtown area. It should improve Colorado Avenue’s appeal as a location for visitor-oriented commerce and it helps link up the riverfront and the rail district with the central business district.

By partnering with the private sector, the city and the DDA are giving residents and taxpayers an economic engine — rebuilt from the failure of the event center ballot measure — that will help drive downtown development for years to come.


COMMENTS

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“If we do this then this will happen” is something which many fall for all of the time.  Perhaps people should go back and look at what has actually happened after they were “sold” with that same argument for past projects undertaken with public funds.  Did they “live up” to the hype or not and, if there were benefits, were they short term or long term, and have the continued to deliver or did they deliver only in the short term, with the benefits accruing only to a few or to particular interests, mostly economic?

Some of us watch and listen very carefully to what people say and do (quite frequently in conflict), and we also keep in mind one thing.  That one thing is:  “First take care of what you have before asking for anything else.”  That lesson seems to have been lost, not only in the general public, but in many public officials as well. Thus, what we end up doing is going “round and round”, and end up erecting structures in a wasteland.

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