The Edmond Sun

Our View

April 29, 2011

Will city move on conference center?

EDMOND — Since 2007, the Edmond Economic Development Authority has discussed, studied and pushed for the development of a conference center and hotel partnership in Edmond.

The aftermath of the 2008 national recession has changed the discussion markedly in reference to what the city’s role should be in such a venture, and specifically in how taxpayer money should play into the plan.

Since 2008, two competing development groups had sought to earn the city’s favor for locating the project either at Interstate 35 and 15th Street or at I-35 and Covell.

The EEDA waited patiently through the competition process to see which private enterprise would be able to bring a plan to fruition.

 In November, a partnership of private developers met with the EEDA Board of Trustees to unveil their plan for a hotel/conference center product at I-35 and Covell. This newer partnership now included Partners in Development headed by John Weeman and Pete DeKalb, who successfully renovated the historic Skirvin Hilton Hotel in Oklahoma City.

On April 19, the EEDA board approved a resolution urging the City of Edmond to consider offering infrastructure improvements at Covell as an incentive and show of good faith to urge the private project onward. The City Council has yet to take up this recommendation, but we believe it will merit serious consideration.

Normally, this Editorial Board would be extremely reserved in encouraging economic incentives, but we believe this project has the potential to bring in significant outside money into the city. That potential for new dollars changes the complexion of the debate.

We are interested to see if the City Council will offer any potential infrastructure incentives such as moving up the timeline for widening Covell. The simple fact is Edmond puts forward almost no economic incentives. In the past, this concept of “if they really want to be here, they will pay for it and get the project built” worked for Edmond, but the recession has significantly changed the game for many players, including the potential for new growth in our city.

Most business owners and corporations are well aware that it’s extremely difficult to plan a large conference event or regional group meeting inside the city limits. Most facilities are only able to handle about 50 people. That’s a loss of economic generators from not having an adequate conference facility.

We’re certainly not ready to endorse the current plan put forward at I-35 and Covell, but this board does believe it’s time for the city to seriously consider what its role in any conference center project should become in the future. There will be numerous more steps to move through and a lot more public input is necessary, but we believe this is a project the city should look at closely sooner rather than later.

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