Event Center On Iffy Grounds

Plea for more time, possibility of second hotel on council agenda

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With that new-council smell still fresh, Payson on Thursday may reconsider one of the landmark accomplishments of the Bob Edwards era.

The developer of a much-ballyhooed convention hotel on leased, town-owned land next to the Event Center will ask for an extra year to line up new financing, at the council meeting that starts Thursday at 5:30

But Mayor Kenny Evans said he'll suggest that the town council take no action on the recommended extension, in part because town officials are in discussion with a new, larger, 200-room convention hotel on a different, privately owned site.

The discussion of whether to give the developer more time to line up new financing will headline the first regular session of the new council. The previous council several months ago entered into a lease agreement to build a 150-room Hilton convention hotel on town-owned land next to the rodeo grounds. Town officials said the hotel would complement both the existing casino convention hotel across the highway and the planned transformation of the rodeo grounds into a year-round, covered facility that could attract trade shows, conventions and events.

However, the new council may take a different view of the proposed hotel complex on town land, especially after discussions with another hotel/resort owner now exploring a different, forested site for a resort complex.

"The town without any real basis chose to try to force a convention center and a hotel onto that same site -- not because someone had done a site selection review and said this is a good place, but because this is available," said Evans.

Evans said the noise and dust of events on the rodeo grounds would probably bother the residents of an adjacent hotel.

Evans has met several times with resort developers who have made four or five visits trying to decide whether to commit to a complex costing $150 to $200 million in Payson.

As a result, he will suggest the council might want to wait and see what happens before making any extended or renewed commitment to the developer of the event center hotel site. The existing contract required the developer to provide proof of financing by now in order to retain the rights to the cost-free lease of the town-owned land.

"We can wait and see if he can come up with the money to build -- and if his people are right and that's the right place for it, then more power to him," said Evans. "In reality, we have nothing to gain from extending the lease at this point."

Another major issue confronting the council on Thursday involves a plan to buy 13 acres next to the airport for about $2.6 million. The former Forest Service land was traded to private owners recently, with the condition that Payson have the first right of refusal on buying the parcel. The town had previously received a $1.2 million federal grant to realign Airport Road and build new runway and hanger facilities on the land in question, which was then awaiting the completion of the Forest Service land trade.

The town has since spent the $1.2 million on airport projects and operations and might have to return the money if it doesn't complete the project by buying the 13 acres now that the land trade is complete.

The land owners have agreed to throw in two more acres, bringing the deal to 15 acres. On Thursday, the council will be asked to approve a payment of more than $500,000 as a down payment on the land purchase. That money will likely come back to the town through a potential $800,000 federal grant, said Evans.

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