Discussion on public events center to be held Tuesday
By AMANDA KIMBLE
STEPHENVILLE (January 5, 2017) – About two months ago, Stephenville City Council asked Wayne McKethan, interim city administrator, to organize a summit, inviting area stakeholders – representatives of the city, county, Stephenville ISD, Tarleton State University, Stephenville Economic Development Authority (SEDA), STEDCO (Stephenville Economic Development Foundation) and Stephenville Chamber of Commerce – to discuss the need for a public events center.
Now, community members are being invited to take part in the discussion by attending a January 10 forum that will be held from 5:30 p.m. until 7 p.m. in the Thompson Center Ballroom at Tarleton State University.
While economic development is at the forefront with John Hubbard, SEDA executive director, working on a number of initiatives to bring businesses to the city and retain existing ones, he said a public events center would bring people to town to support those businesses.
“Over the last several weeks, we (stakeholders) got together and went through an exercise and determined there is really not a place, a public facility in Stephenville than can hold more than 500 people,” Hubbard said.
During the meetings, stakeholders addressed individual entity’s needs, with university officials saying Tarleton could benefit from a larger facility to host graduation services each semester, according to Hubbard. He also said a representative of Stephenville ISD mentioned that student athletes and coaches must travel to – and cannot host – certain events, including an indoor track and field meet that is held in Lubbock.
Summit committee members have said discussions about the proposed events center do not currently include talks about a rodeo arena. But, the summit was organized after a potential purchaser of Lone Star Arena backed out. At that time, business leaders were concerned the failed business deal would lead to the closure of the arena, which remains on the market and continues to host events.
“I do want to clarify that the core committee is not discussing a rodeo arena that would compete with Lone Star Arena’s current owners or potential buyers,” July Danley, president and CEO of Stephenville Chamber of Commerce, said in an electronic communication to The Flash. “Our discussion, at least for now, is just about an events center facility, not an arena.”
Meanwhile, community leaders aware of the fiscal impact of events and tourism, McKethan told the city council Tuesday that the summit is now at the stage where the public will help determine the course of future discussions.
“We are simply looking for community input,” McKethan said, adding if the community is interested, future stakeholder meetings would address issues like financing options, facility needs and more.
Hubbard agreed, saying even if there is no support for the issue, it is worthy of a discussion.
“The whole purpose of Tuesday is to get together with the community and see what they say,” Hubbard said. “I plan to talk about the potential economic impact, what the dollars mean to the local economy. Others (community leaders) will also share information to will help people make an informed decision. We will present the facts and they can let us know if they support moving forward or not.”
The Event Center Summit agenda outlines other a number of core group tasks, which, in addition to financing and facilities includes tourism uses, sponsorships, revenue sources, land locations and management/maintenance.
Council member Jerry Warren said Tuesday he believes the discussion is an attempt to dredge up an old discussion that was already met with public opposition. Warren reminded Mayor Kenny Weldon about the $26 million discussion about a multipurpose facility, calling the issue that was discussed about a year-and-a-half ago a “very unpopular idea.”
“To me, this is back tracking,” Warren said, adding the events center was the same thing by a different name. “I am concerned we are going to be wasting a bunch of time.”
Weldon responded by saying the discussion isn’t the “resurrection of the multi-urpose center” and also said the problem isn’t necessarily the city’s to solve.
“Research will need to include looking into a variety of creative funding options from grants to public-private partnerships and other possible resources,” Danley said. “A multi-purpose facility that could accommodate large groups for conventions, speakers, entertainment, graduation ceremonies, possibly even tournaments and more – with break out space for smaller meetings – would be a great asset to community members, businesses and visitors. Research will need to include looking into a variety of creative funding options from grants to public-private partnerships and other possible resources.”
While Warren believes the summit is simply a “campaign to get everyone on board,” Weldon said it’s simply a new way of addressing shared concerns.
“It’s time to get past guessing what everyone wants and get together and talk about needs without agendas or preconceived outcomes,” the mayor said.