A proposed convention center may cost $42.3 million in city tax dollars, paid for with revenue produced from a tax levied on local hotel businesses, even as some members of the city council are questioning the expense. If constructed, it would hike the city debt to nearly $200 million.
The city council voted last week to move forward with a schematic design option for the new Midland Center – an event venue downtown. While numbers are subject to change, the design option favored by the council would cost approximately $42.3 million.
The new building is slated to be constructed with revenues from hotel occupancy taxes (HOT), which, as of January 2016, are the lowest they’ve been in five years.
The $42.3 million design plan includes purchasing and demolishing the Chamber of Commerce building connected to the existing event center and building 29,000 square-feet of new convention space. Of that space, 20,000 square-feet is allotted for an exhibit hall, 3,000 square feet for meeting space, and 6,000 square feet for a ballroom.
Questioning the timing and price tag of the decision, council members Jeff Sparks and Spencer Robnett attempted to postpone the final vote by delaying the approval of the schematic design. The motion failed 2-5. With the local economy being in a downturn due to oil commodity prices, tax revenues are unpredictable and $42.3 million is an expensive liability.
Based on experience with the Horseshoe Arena, a convention center started by Midland County and funded in large part with HOT taxes, government-run event centers are rarely self-sustaining and often end up burdening taxpayers for years to come.
Soon, Midlanders will find themselves with two government-operated, taxpayer-funded event centers competing against each other.
The existing Midland Center has seen better days, and continual leaks in the basement point to the need for renovation. However, Midland’s HOT tax revenue has also seen better days and is unlikely to recover in the near future. Being the lifeline of this convention center, it would be wise for city council to press pause and not stack more financial liability on a city that’s already burdened by $138 million in debt.