Pittsburg State and city business leaders put on their salesmen hats Tuesday night at the Pittsburg city Commission meeting.



The product they were selling was an indoor track/event center/Weede Physical Education Building overhaul that speakers said could attract hundreds if not thousands of students, dozens of conventions and competitions, and help the university compete with other MIAA institutions.

Pittsburg State and city business leaders put on their salesmen hats Tuesday night at the Pittsburg city Commission meeting.

The product they were selling was an indoor track/event center/Weede Physical Education Building overhaul that speakers said could attract hundreds if not thousands of students, dozens of conventions and competitions, and help the university compete with other MIAA institutions.

Commissioners did not consider the proposal  for $7.6 million in city funds for the project on Tuesday night, but decided to have City Manager Daron Hall and Pittsburg State officials to work out a formal proposal, including details about the sources of funding, for some time in the future.

The pitch was similar — point-for-point, if not word-for-word at times — to a presentation last week at a public information session. That said, there were a few new voices, including Kaye Lynne Webb, a local businesswoman who served as something of an emcee for the proposal and opened the sell by talking about who could benefit from a new event center.

“I see this as a win-win-win-win. That’s four wins instead of two because it affects that many groups,” Webb said. “The students, Pittsburg State, the city and private citizens will all benefit. We’re here to explain it to you, and to get you on board.”

PSU President Steve Scott quickly moved through the other major capital projects planned and/or close to fully funded. The first is a $14 million addition and renovation of the Overman Student Center, which will be paid through student fees. The second is a roughly $30+ million fine and performing arts center. A contractor is expected to be chosen this week on that project, and Scott said he’s raised about $2 million in a little more than a week after the base bids came in a bit higher than the $30 million estimated cost of the building.

Scott also spoke about the city’s long history of working with the university, from the school’s origins to more recent events, including the Kansas Technology Center, the Student Recreation Center/National Guard Armory, traffic lights and other issues.

Ultimately, he came back to the $17 million event center as the focus of his presentation.

“This project is different because of the scale. It’s larger, but the outcome is greater than anything we’ve ever done in the past,” Scott told the commissioners. “Sufficient revenue exists to take this on. We’re not asking to increase anyone’s taxes. The timing is perfect. The cost to borrow is very, very low. Contractors and subcontractors are very hungry. They want to work.”

The request from the city is for $7.6 million combined from the city’s revolving loan fund (which is dedicated for economic development) and the city’s bonding ability.

Commissioners asked several questions, including whether university or non-university events would get priority scheduling in the facility. PSU officials said that with a memorandum of understanding and effectively sitting down across the table with their city counterparts, that any conflicts could certainly be worked out.

Commissioner Patrick O’Bryan said that if the university’s projections were accurate and the number of students reached 10,000 by 2033, then the city would be forced to make several infrastructure improvements.

Mayor John Ketterman expressed some worry over the use of economic development funds to pay for the project and said the project should go before the citizens to decide, a point that caused some debate by the commissioners.

“I don’t think you can count on RLF funds,” Ketterman said. “We have no idea when or if those are going to come. There is a real possibility we are going to have to raise taxes to pay for this. I think we should go to a vote by the city. If we truly want the community involved, they should be able to say so.”

“I think that’s what they hired us for, but that’s just my opinion,” O’Bryan said.

“I don’t want to put a burden on people unless they have a say in increasing their taxes,” Ketterman said.

However, O’Bryan and others commented that the RLF funds are stable, generated from a sales tax that was voted on and approved by Pittsburg residents.

Specifically, the RLF comes from an eighth of a percent of the city’s 1.25 percent sales tax and has historically generated about $800,000-$900,000 a year. This year, funds are up about 5 percent.

Commissioner Marty Beezley defended the city’s history of using the RLF to fund major projects and expansions throughout the town, and said that she doesn’t believe there’s any reason to worry that the funds will not be available. Further, she said that the city’s residents elected the commissioners to make tough decisions, and that she believes they are up for the task.

O’Bryan further said that an investmen in Pittsburg State would be better than other options.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t recognize the importance of the largest industry we have. I’m afraid if someone came from out of town, we’d belly up to the bar for them. [PSU] is the safest bet we have. We’re working to enhance their position. When we do that, it helps our position,” O’Bryan said.

After Webb made her last push for the project — “Don’t let the train leave you standing at the station,” a fitting line given her connection to Watco — the commissioners agreed to have city staff work with PSU to come up with a formal financing proposal for the project, as well as potential memoranda of understanding.

Ketterman made a final push to get the issue on a city ballot, but others said that the power had already been given to them by the residents who had voted them into office.

“We issue bonds all the time,” said Commissioner Michael Gray. “We don’t put those out for vote. To me, they already voted.”

“The economic development funds were made to help established businesses,” Ketterman said. “Now, it covers just about anything.”

“We’ll have to agree to disagree,” Gray countered. “It’s a necessary step in going forward. With those funds, we’ll better understand what the deal will look like in the end.”

“I want to clarify: We are not going to put another tax on the populace,” Beezley said.

Earlier in the discussion, O’Bryan had an important point he wanted people to remember.

“Disagreement can be good,” O’Bryan said. “Strength can grow out of disagreement. Just because we all disagree doesn’t mean we don’t like each other.”

Andrew Nash can be reached at andrew.nash@morningsun.net or by calling 231-2600 ext. 140.