Officials still working on possible convention center

By DAWNE LEIKER

dleiker@dailynews.net

As the long road toward creation of a new Hays convention center continues, local organizers are moving the process ahead by working to form a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization to serve as the owner of the facility.

The 501(c)3 organization will be under the authority of the Ellis County Coalition for Economic Development.

"It's taking longer than we thought," Aaron White, coalition executive director, said of the application process. "We're trying to be really thorough and make sure we have the best chance possible of getting the approval."

Funding for the convention center project is planned to be received through a community improvement district composed of approximately a dozen businesses north of Interstate 70 on Vine Street. The businesses include several hotels, restaurants and Walmart SuperCenter.

"For the most part, we've got the support from the members," White said. "We've talked to them about the impacts, and the fact that there's not a hotel that's going to be built as part of the project.

"We've had a lot of businesses who said they wanted to be a part of it."

The businesses involved in the CID would continue to be a part of the funding mechanism for no longer than 22 years as dictated by state law, White said. Should a business close, the CID will remain with the property.

Last year, Fort Hays State University officials pledged their support as a defining source in the convention center's development, indicating the university would own the facility.

However, after examining details of the building process, it was determined that coordinating the process locally rather than through the university would prove more effective and efficient, said Todd Powell, FHSU general counsel and ECC convention task force member.

"The university is still involved from an operational standpoint," Powell said. "Obviously, since the activities have been waiting on the 501(c)3 that the coalition's established, there haven't been a lot more details put in place about the operation.

"Everybody still intends on the university being involved and operating the convention center."

After receiving approval of the 501(c)3 status, which could take several months, the ECC will move forward with the CID application process.