The Flash Today has reported the public is invited to discuss a prospective “events center” at a community meeting to be held Tuesday, January 10, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Thompson Student Center.
What will come out of this meeting remains to be seen. But at the very least, more discussion among not only citizens but representatives of various local governments—the city, the county, the ISD, etc.—may well foster greater cooperation on other issues in the future as well.
In the meantime, those who choose to attend this meeting may want to raise questions–or at least think—about the following questions and points.
First—is there a real demand for an events center that is not currently being met. We simply shouldn’t take a “Field of Dreams Approach.” If you build it, they will come—maybe. Or maybe not.
Second—exactly what sort of events are to be held in the prospective events center? The Flash reports that a rodeo arena is currently off the table for the time being—and rightly so. The city should not be competing with the Lone Star Arena or other private businesses. To that end, one should be concerned with whatever events may be held, and whether the event center would take business away from, say, City Limits, Hardaway Ranch, or other privately owned events centers in the vicinity.
Third, one should be concerned with what events centers do elsewhere, and how successful they are. If there are other events centers in neighboring communities which are currently successful, they may also be successful in competing for business that might otherwise go to a Stephenville events center. If, on the other hand, others are failing, or running at a loss, then one may ask why a Stephenville center would be any more successful. Of course, such a study might indicate there’s plenty of business to go around for everyone—a point definitely in favor of a new events center—but it’s a point that deserves thorough research if it hasn’t already received it.
Fourth, one should be concerned with exactly what sorts of businesses would be helped and jobs created or maintained by the sort of tourist influx used to justify a new events center. There is nothing wrong with strengthening businesses that cater to the tourist trade, but if the jobs that will be maintained or created in the future are the sort of low- or minimum-wage jobs one frequently sees in the service industry, then one must hope that efforts to establish an events center will be in addition to, and not in place of, efforts to bring new industries as well. Bringing new industry to Stephenville may produce better jobs as well as the greater population growth that may make Stephenville someday more attractive to Lowe’s, Home Depot, Aldi, etc., etc. Of course, a new events center may enhance Stephenville’s attractiveness to those wondering whether to start or relocate factories here.
Perhaps most importantly, one should consider not only how much is to be spent on an events center, but how it is to be financed as well. Perhaps the most encouraging part of The Flash’s report was the discussion of financing options and the comments that discussion elicited. Mayor Weldon’s remarks were especially encouraging, indicating, as they do, both the possibility and the desirability of seeking sources of financing—including private financing—other than taxpayers’ dollars. And council member Trussell is absolutely correct to argue that if the prospective events center is to be financed by the taxpayers, than they must have the opportunity to vote on the issue in a bond election. The cost of an events center will simply be too high to finance with taxes without direct citizen input in the form of an election. And council member Jerry Warren has voiced some much-needed skepticism not only for this matter, but for any matter which will require massive funding.
About ten years ago the city council frequently discussed the construction of a community center which would house a new library, senior citizens center, recreation center, and conference/convention center. The onset of the 2008 Great Recession caused us to shelve discussion since we doubted we could win public support for financing it. It will be interesting to see if discussions of a new events center will meet a similar fate, or if they’ll lead to the actual construction of a center which will help spur the sort of job growth and economic growth the city needs.