Benefits of meeting at community center

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Our city council is looking for space for all city meetings. They considered remodeling a downtown fire station even though the meetings there would be shared with a fire truck, and evicting the precious resource of a doctor out of his office then remodeling the space to accommodate city meetings. The mayor estimated these alternatives would cost $20,000 and $25,000 dollars, respectively, before the first meeting could be held, then thereafter the city would be responsible for all the operating and maintenance expenses. 

The Eureka Springs Community Center Foundation Board presented a plan to provide meeting space for five years. The rent would be $417 a month, except the first year would be exempted if the city paid for some improvements which Mayor Berry estimated would cost less than $5,000. In other words, ESCCF is offering to rent 1800 sq. ft. to the city for about $27 per meeting. 

A look at the financials makes it clear that the ESCCF made the city a generous offer. City council was only lukewarm to the proposal. Why?  

One objection was that the city didn’t own the property. Ownership incurs responsibility for maintenance and utilities, costs already borne by ESCCF.

A second objection was that the ESCCF might default on its contract to purchase the property from the School District. ESCCF made its first two payments to the School District and raised additional money to repair buildings and begin programs. If ESCCF did default on its contract, the city would be in exactly the place it is now, relying on meetings in the Aud lobby, or it would have a new landlord. The city would not lose money.

A third objection was that city council meetings could not be broadcast live from the new location. This objection is based on old technology. Today, a meeting can be streamed directly to the Internet with the viewer needing only a smart device like a cellphone, tablet or computer; not requiring access to cable TV.  

A fourth objection was that ESCCF was not offering an exclusive space. [Aldermen] Thomas and Mitchell implied that this was a deal breaker. When repeatedly asked “Why do you need it?” they didn’t provide an answer. A sticking point seems to be setting up and taking down the sound system and storing it.

ESCCF offers an exclusive locked closet and to schedule all city meetings before any other uses, but insisted they be able to rent the room for other community meetings. No meeting space the city has used in the past has been exclusive to the city council. The jury room, courtroom, and the Aud lobby are all shared.  City council would still be sharing with other city commissions and committees.

This week we surveyed Berryville, Huntsville, Pea Ridge, Fayetteville, and Springdale asking where the city councils met and who else used that space. They all reported that city council meeting space was used for other committees, commissions, staff meetings, employee training and public meetings. Exclusivity is not a requirement for them.

Contact the mayor and city council at (479) 253-9705 to let them know your opinion. ESCCF made an offer that makes the Community Center more economical and more immediate than the other alternatives.

Eric and Joyce Knowles

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