Friday, June 30, 2000

Hopes dim for convention center

No room in budget for $1.5M site

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — Hopes for a convention center here have dimmed as city officials' ne gotiations on a vacant building have slowed to a standstill.

        “They're not backing off their $1.5 million price,” Councilman James Reinhard said of the former Erb Lumber building on Deerfield Road. “... At this point we're in a holding pattern at least until budget time.”

        Councilman Ben Cole agreed the price tag is too steep — about twice what the city wants to pay. He estimated chances of the deal working out are about 50-50.

        That disappoints some who say a convention center would be a big draw for visitors — enhancing Lebanon's effort to become a tourist town.

        “A convention center/banquet facility would certainly pay for itself,” said Mary Klei, chairwoman of the city Board of Festivals and Tour ism. “I don't think it can fail if it's properly done.”

        City officials began talks to buy the former lumber yard this spring. They saw the site — off the Ohio 48 Bypass about two miles from Interstate 71 — as a good spot for small and mid-sized business conferences and conventions.

        “A lot of organizations might opt to have their event in a small-town environment like Lebanon,” Ms. Klei said.

        The 38,000-square-foot building, on 10 acres, also could be used for recreation activities and Lebanon's annual antiques and quilt shows.

        “If we can offer another reason for tourists to come up, they'll come up,” said George Stengl, owner of the Best Cafe downtown.

        More tourists mean more customers for businesses such as his.

        But the city's budget is pretty well maxed out, Mr. Reinhard said, between the $8.2 million telecommunications system and spending on other properties such as the 27 N. Mechanic St. house.

        “Money is tight,” he said.

        Letting the private sector develop the site might be preferable, Mr. Reinhard said.


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