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Council defers vote on event center

Sara McManamy-Johnson sjohnson@lebanondemocrat.com • Dec 17, 2015 at 5:34 PM

Lebanon City Council delayed its final vote on a proposed entertainment district plan until councilors could talk with county commissioners and county school board members.

Councilors were set to vote Tuesday on the second reading of a measure to establish a Cumberland Center Development District of about 257 acres and to create a fund for the future development of a multipurpose event center at the heart of the district.

According to Mayor Philip Craighead, a private developer owning about 165 acres of the district would hand over title to 20 acres for the city to build the event center in exchange for the city adding infrastructure to the property.

As part of the plan, the city would seek a collaboration with Wilson County and Wilson County Schools to help fund the proposed event center. Each entity would contribute sales tax dollars generated within the district to the fund.

Neither the county nor the school system has yet formally agreed to participate, though.

“Being there are two other public entities involved, I would like to get their input,” said Councilor Fred Burton.

Councilor Kathy Warmath said she would also like to wait to see what the county is considering regarding its planned Expo Center, which is set to be discussed Wednesday evening.

“Until I see what the county will reveal…then I don’t know what they have to offer,” said Warmath.

She also said she would prefer time to gather more information about the proposal.

“What’s a week? What’s two weeks to actually sit down and chisel out and continue to have the massaging of the questions?” asked Warmath. “The more questions you ask, the more you turn the rock upside down and start thinking about things, the better off your product’s going to be…It doesn’t mean it’s criticism; it means it’s critical thinking.”

Lebanon resident Jason Selby told councilors that he still had questions, too.

“I wouldn’t say that I’m opposed to the arena, but I would say that I don’t feel like I’ve been fully informed of what could go wrong,” said Selby.

He cited cases of other cities defaulting on bonds for arenas after the cities overestimated the projected revenues.

Craighead said the main purpose of the current measure is to set up a “savings account.”

“This is a plan just to save for the future,” said Craighead. “The point of it is to set a foundation to help encourage businesses to come here so the sales tax dollars and all can be generated, the buildings built and the property tax increases there, and then if we’re able to have to buildings happen, you’ll have more input.”

Lebanon resident Derek Dodson also questioned the financial aspects of the plan.

“Your funding plan, this justification, is impossible when there’s no independent financial analysis of that or any legal bond council to that either,” said Dodson. “Dodge City is often brought up, as it was in your workshop previously, and my question is: With regard to Dodge City, they had a tax referendum and the citizens voted on the half-penny, or whatever it was, that they wanted an arena. Why can’t the residents of this city vote with regard to the arena?”

Warmath also said she would like it put to a referendum.

“If we’re going to do a particular dedicated area that’s going to keep all the money in the area, and then developers are going to basically develop that area and the city’s going to do x-y-z, I would prefer that it’s put on a referendum in some fashion,” said Warmath.

She said that while she may change her mind about it if more information becomes available, she did not support it without a referendum.

Burton made a motion to defer the vote until council could meet with county commissioners and school board members. Warmath seconded the motion, and it passed 4-2 with Burton, Lanny Jewell, Joe Hayes and Warmath voting to defer. 

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