Monday, June 13, 2011

Marion Moves to Take Over Williamson County Pavilion

The Marion City Council took action tonight cleaning up the financial mess known as the Williamson County Pavilion, a mess caused at its creation when excess bed tax funds originally intended for the operation of the building, were unexpectedly required to be set aside.

That move crippled the Williamson County Events Commission's ability to adequately staff and operate the convention facility, requiring the separate Williamson County Tourism Bureau to subsidize the operations at a detriment to its own tourism promotion efforts.

Tonight the council passed an intergovernmental agreement with the Events Commission, voted to take over the facility, levy its own city 3 percent bed tax to pre-empt the existing county tax, pay off the old financing bonds, and issue new general revenue bonds in their place

The other part of the mess was the issue of property taxes on the property. Although a non-profit corporation, the Events Commission found out to their surprise that they were not tax-exempt when it came to property taxes. In a move suggested, or at least supported, by the local bank backing the bonds, the Events Commission sold its interest in the land back to the city (who originally donated it in the first place). Afterwards the city immediately leased the building back to the commission to operate. Since then the property transfer has been the subject of a lawsuit brought by the Marion School District in an effort to collect the taxes they feel should have been paid.

The council approved a lease of office space to the Williamson County Tourism Bureau which has been housed in the facility since it opened in 2005. The original proposal called for a five year lease of $500 a month. In recent negotiation the bureau asked that they be allowed to get out of the lease after one year with 30 days notice. The city's point man on the issue, local attorney Ron Osman, countered that both sides to the lease should be able to cancel it after one year. The bureau agreed and wanted 90 days notice, and the council tonight agreed.

Though there was some discussion at the meeting that they couldn't see why the bureau might want to leave. Trust me, it's obvious to anyone who has ever tried direct tourists to the building behind the Illinois Center Mall.

Between the proposed tourism development with the STAR Bonds district on the east side of the interstate and the Chamber of Commerce's earlier plans (now presumably on hold due to the STAR Bonds proposal) for a new visitors center on Main Street in front of the state regional office building, the bureau is smart to keep their options open.

I hope to know more tomorrow, but it's clear to me that tonight's move is a major step forward both for the Pavilion's operations and the potential of improvement for the tourism bureau as well.