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Event center plan fails on second vote

By Sara McManamy-Johnson sjohnson@lebanondemocrat.com • Dec 17, 2015 at 5:59 PM

The proposed Cumberland Center Development District is dead in the water, at least for now.

During Lebanon City Council’s regular meeting Tuesday, councilors considered the second reading for a measure that would establish a Cumberland Center Development District of about 257 acres and would create a fund for the future development of a multipurpose event center at the heart of that district.

The measure, however, failed to garner the four votes required for passage.

“We had one of the biggest things looking at us, and you all are throwing it away…you’re just tossing it away,” Mayor Philip Craighead told councilors after the vote was tallied. 

Councilors Rob Cesternino (Ward 3), Joe Hayes (Ward 4) and Tick Bryan (Ward 5) voted yes; Lanny Jewell (Ward 1) and Kathy Warmath (Ward 6) voted no; and Fred Burton abstained from voting.

“Once again, we’ve got a councilman who puts his vote higher and above the others and his ward,” said Craighad after Tuesday’s meeting. “His ward stands to benefit more than anybody, and he can’t make a decision on the facts that are presented. He’s costing people jobs.”

Burton, however, said he did not have the information he needed to cast a vote. He said he had asked for information about what the overhead costs would be to run the proposed multipurpose event center, but never received it.

“You’re talking about $40 million [to build the event center] and you don’t have any financial information on what it would cost to run it,” said Burton. “You’ve got to have all this information so you can make a definitive decision.”

He said he also felt the city should bring the proposal to the citizens for a referendum.

Additionally, he said he was concerned about the city investing money into property that could revert back to the developer if the event center ended up not being built.

“Taxpayer dollars are sacred money, and you can’t take taxpayer dollars in a sinking fund or any other type of fund to invest in real estate that the city doesn’t own,” said Burton. “You can’t get a bond on private property through the city.”

According to 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.

Larry Frankenbach, of Vastland Realty, one of developers of the property, expressed disappointment in Tuesday’s vote.

“Of course, I’m disappointed,” said Frankenbach. “The mayor tried very hard to show his leadership and put in place a vehicle that would help the city.”

But he said the future of the development is still bright.

“The site attributes speak for themselves. It’s a wonderful location,” said Frankenbach. “We’ve got a lot of really solid, good prospects. That part’s not going to change…We’ll continue on with our plans as they are.”

He said as it stands, though, the event center is not in the picture if the city’s not involved.

“We’re not going to keep a big event center in the plan right now because we don’t have a vehicle to pay for it; that’s what the development district was going to do,” said Frankenbach. “That part will have to change for the moment, but this is a long-term development…We’re invested for the long term.”

Frankenbach said it was too soon to think about whether they would revisit the development district and event center proposal, but Craighead said he’s not done.

“I’m disappointed in the lack of vision and support to move our city forward. This was one way of doing it,” said Craighead. “It’s a tool that’s used by other communities to really make a difference. And our council is so afraid of a futuristic event center that they close the doors on so many other opportunities that are knocking on our door today.”

He said he plans to try bringing it back, and he urged residents to speak up.

“I think the community of Ward 2 needs to reach out to their councilman and tell him that he was elected to make a decision and vote and not to slow the progress of the city down and also, in the same tone, preventing jobs from being right at their back door,” said Craighead.

Burton said he would still need more information if it comes back up.

“If I can get all the information that I need prior to it being on the agenda, then I can make a definitive decision. I want financial costs, overhead costs,” said Burton. “You’ve got to have all this information.”

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