Bryan Richison

Arnold city officials and staff have plenty of homework to complete.

C.H. Johnson Consulting Inc. of Chicago has provided them with a 109-page feasibility study to determine if Arnold could support some type of convention center.

Arnold Mayor Ron Counts said he now will form a committee made up of City Council members, city staff and possibly other officials from Jefferson County to review the findings and determine if it is possible to build a convention center in Arnold.

Charles Johnson, president and chief executive officer of Johnson Consulting, presented the company’s findings to the city on Nov. 14.

“I feel it is very possible to have a center here from the feasibility study,” Counts said. “There is an awful lot to digest.”

City Administrator Bryan Richison said he thinks setting up a committee is a good idea.

“I think this (study) is too unwieldly to work through these questions in a (City Council) work session,” Richison said. “We need a smaller committee with council members and staff to do a thorough review of the information and reach out to other organizations and entities. I have no idea who might be on (the committee), how many people and how often they would meet.

“We will see where it goes. We could look into it more and decide it isn’t the right thing for us. We don’t want to do something just to do it. We want it to be a positive for the community if we pursue something.”

According to the study, an event center would best suit Arnold.

Johnson Consulting’s study defined an event center as a multipurpose facility that can host a wide range of events, such as small to mid-sized conventions, trade shows, athletic events, concerts and banquets. The study also said event centers typically include meeting rooms and a full commercial kitchen to cater events.

The event-center model typically is geared toward attracting local business, according to the study.

The study recommends Arnold build an event center similar to one in Enid, Okla., which has a population of 50,000, more than double Arnold’s estimated 21,000. However, Johnson Consulting suggested building a center that can seat 2,500 instead of 3,800 like the one in Enid.

The proposed event center also would offer meeting spaces and a main convention floor space that could be divided into smaller units to accommodate different sized events.

Richison said determining what kind of convention center facility would work best in the city is the first hurdle to cross before moving a potential project forward.

Johnson Consulting also gave examples of conference centers that offer a combination of meeting spaces, high-tech amenities, and services in support of training and education initiatives, as well as convention centers that offer the meeting capabilities of a conference center with exhibit space geared toward attracting business from outside the area.

“You have to define what we want to do and not want to do,” Richison said. “I don’t think that will be easy. The study will be helpful, giving us a lot of data and ideas of what will make sense.”

Richison said the second hurdle for the potential project is figuring out how to finance the construction of the convention center and fund its operation and maintenance costs.

Counts said he doesn’t want to see the city own and operate a convention center, believing the private sector does a better job of handling those kinds of businesses.

“I don’t think we run businesses very well. I don’t mean that bad,” Counts said. “I think the private sector does a better job. I think there are a lot of ways we can help along the way. There are a lot of big developers out there, and maybe some of them might have an interest. I think our committee can help lay a lot of the groundwork for that interest.”

Richison said one of the final big hurdles will be figuring out where a convention center can be placed in the city.

“Right now, we got a lot of good information, but people will need time to work through it,” he said. “We will need to get people together and talk about it to shape it and see where it goes.”

The study also pointed out the need for a Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) to market a convention center. That is something that would have to be done at a County Council level, Richison said.

“Then there are questions about who will fund (a CVB), manage it and hire the staff,” Richison said. “I don’t know if that is something the county is interested in doing or in a position to do. We need to have conversations there to see how interested they would be in something like this.

“There are a lot of questions with no answers right now. The study has given us a lot of information and educated us. We have to pick it up and decide where we want to go with it.”

One thing that is known, city officials want to take their time in deciding if a convention center can be built in Arnold.

“There are a lot of meetings and studying to be done on where we do it, if we do it and how we do it,” Counts said. “My main focus is to do it right so 20 years down the line people will say, ‘You did this correctly, and we are happy with it and it is self-sustaining and not creating issues with the city trying to keep it going.’”

City Council members commissioned the study on March 21.

City Council members agreed to pay $45,000 for the feasibility study, plus $10,000 for a hotel analysis and up to $2,500 to cover the firm’s expenses.

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