By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
After months of discussions, the Pittsburg City Commission and Pittsburg State University are partners in what officials of both are calling a unique project.
They say it will net the community jobs and revenue, and will help recruit additional students.
The City Commission on Tuesday approved a recommendation by City Manager Daron Hall to put $5 million from the city’s revolving loan fund toward a $17 million indoor event center to be built at PSU on Homer Street. It is to include a 300-meter track and an 80-yard practice field.
The investment will be composed of $1.5 million upfront from the fund, which is earmarked for economic development, and $175,000 per year for 20 years as part of a lease agreement for shared use.
Last fall, PSU officials had requested that the city invest $7.6 million in the center, citing studies that gauged its potential for economic development. Projections by Municipal Consulting LLC suggested that the event center is one of three campus projects that in 10 years could lead to the creation of 444 jobs and have a total economic impact of $329 million. That figure included $5.2 million in direct revenue to the city of Pittsburg and $3 million in direct revenue to Crawford County.
During a study session Tuesday, Hall told the commission he was recommending a lesser amount than PSU had requested because he wanted to keep the revolving loan fund stable in coming years in an uncertain economic climate.
The revolving loan fund is paid for through half of a half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 1985. On an annual basis, the city brings in about $1.3 million each year when both sales tax revenue and loan repayment are factored in. The $1.5 million upfront investment in the PSU project will leave almost $2.5 million in the fund with which to pay for future economic development projects.
PSU President Steve Scott said the two entities worked together to create the memorandum of agreement. He said he was “extremely pleased with what the city’s ultimate decision was.”
“The decision gives the project a lot of momentum to move forward,” he said.
The city will have full use of the building through a lease agreement approved by the commission in its regular session Tuesday. The agreement also will establish a team composed of representatives from the city, the university and the Convention & Visitors Bureau that will develop and maintain a schedule of use.
B.J. Harris, Convention & Visitors Bureau director, said he is confident that the center will enable him to bring large events to Pittsburg during a time of year — January through March — when hotel occupancy is slight and not much is on the calendar.
He said he hopes to attract boat shows and trade expos for which Pittsburg currently has no space. He also said events scheduled by PSU, like large track meets, will be a boon to the entire community because they will keep the hospitality industry busy.
“We do not have an economic develop facility for handling events, especially over the winter months,” Hall said. “I think it could be huge. It’s something we haven’t had before. This is a critical piece of economic development for us — the opportunity to have people come through this town in the winter months and spend their money in Pittsburg.”
Commissioner Marty Beezley noted that the city will be able to use the building and potentially “fill up our hotels.” He said those are “two big wins that make it look like a sure deal.”
OFFICIALS DON’T YET HAVE a timeline for construction. Pittsburg State University still is wrapping up fundraising, and plans must be more fully developed by an architect before work can begin.