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County Commissioners still leery of arena deal
Aug 05, 2005 12:00 am
August 3, 2005
Wilson County lawmakers appeared lukewarm to an invitation to Ohio to see an arena similar to the one proposed for Lebanon, saying more financial details about the proposal are needed.
Their responses came on the heels of news that officials in Youngstown, Ohio are now working to address a $9 million shortfall to cover the cost of the arena's construction.
Lebanon Mayor Don Fox said local officials will meet with lawmakers from the City of Youngstown to discuss "the pros and cons" of the arena project.
Some in county government, however, argue such a trip will not convince them to use public funds to help cover the cost of building an events center.
District 22 Wilson County Commissioner Heather Scott, who has long opposed plans for an arena, said locals need look no further than Davidson County to see how facilities such as the Gaylord Entertainment Center can be a burden to local governments.
"In the long term, they're not going to pay out," she said. "Just look at Davidson County. We don't have to look farther than the next county over."
Scott added she has no plans to make the trip to Youngstown, noting other projects such as schools and roads are higher priorities for county government.
District 2 Commissioner Ken Holland, who also will not make the trip to Youngstown, agreed.
"It's real similar to what First Baptist Church did (in Mt. Juliet) when they were looking at a retirement community," Holland said. "A company was going to come in, but all of the risk was held by the church. If all of the risk is going to be born by the taxpayers, whether they're city taxpayers or county taxpayers … that's just not a good deal. I don't care how you slice it."
"I'm all in favor of the arena if a private company owns it, operates it and builds it," Scott added. "I don't have a problem with that … Schools and roads should be our priority. Security, safety, WEMA (Wilson Emergency Management Agency) – all of that should be our priority."
County squires are most concerned by the lack of information currently available regarding a financial plan to build the arena, Wilson County Mayor Robert Dedman said.
Recently media reports from Youngstown indicate the Ohio city plans to seek a one-year, $4.5 million loan from their county government to cover construction costs associated by the Youngstown Convocation Center – a facility for which development and management duties will be covered by Phoenix-based Global Entertainment Corporation (GEC), which has made a similar proposal to Lebanon and Wilson County officials.
Youngstown officials are also working to secure an additional $4.5 million from a financial institution to cover arena construction costs.
Dedman said Tuesday afternoon he was unsure whether he would be able to make the Youngstown trip, and said county officials might warm to the project if more financial details were known.
"They have not discussed the finances with us yet, and that's a big concern," Dedman said, adding the trip to Youngstown could prove beneficial in the search for more information. "It could answer some questions, yes. But, until they come up with some kind of financial plan, I haven't seen many county commissioners in favor of it.
"If it's a good plan, they might take it. Right now, they have not addressed it."
District 14 Commissioner Rusty Thompson, chairman of the county's financial management committee, shared Dedman's opinion. He said the arena proposal has continued to "evolved" over the past year, and added county officials should wait for a formal presentation before making a decision.
Although he said he would like to make the trip to Youngstown to gather additional information, Thompson said his work schedule is unlikely to allow it.
"I'm sure when (arena development officials) are comfortable with briefing us on what their final proposal is, we'll be hearing from them," Thompson said. "At this time, my sense is that that proposal will be somewhat fluid.
" … I think it would be prudent to let those who are working on this project full-time to continue to do so, until they have a proposal they feel we can look at."
Staff Writer Brian Harville can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 16 or by e-mail at email@example.com.