Committee Recommends One-Cent Sales Tax to Pay for Proposed Convention Center

NOVEMBER 22, 2005 - Posted at 3:48 p.m. CST

JONESBORO, AR - An ad hoc committee assembled several months ago by Mayor Doug Formon to study the feasibility of funding a proposed new convention center for the city of Jonesboro this afternoon recommended a special one-cent sales tax to pay for the facility.

At a news conference at the Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce, committee chairman and Jonesboro businessman Wallace Fowler said, "Our evaluation has shown this to be a viable economic development project for the city, and one that we should aggressively pursue.  It will have an obvious impact on job creation, tourism, and revenue generation for the city."

Earlier this year, Springfield, Missouri-based hotelier John Q. Hammons proposed to city officials a plan to build and operate a new Courtyard by Marriot hotel in the city, if the city would agree to build an adjacent convention center that Hammons would lease long-term and manage with his property.  The site for the proposed facilities is a 13.6 acre lot at the corner of Race Street and Fair Park Boulevard.  Fowler said early estimates to purchase land and build the hotel are over $51 million.

Fowler says the city's total commitment now required for its end of the project is $17 million.  "It is our recommendation that Mayor Formon ask the city council to pass a resolution calling for a special election giving the voters of Jonesboro the opportunity to fund the construction of the convention center through a special one-cent sales tax, set to expire as soon as the $17 million obligation is met.  Based on current and projected estimations, we believe that the tax will cease to be collected after approximately 14 to 17 months."  At the conclusion of the construction, Fowler said the city would own the convention center, land and building, and would immediately begin receiving rental income from Hammons.

Mayor Formon responded to the recommendation by saying, "I also share your belief that the most prudent way to fund our portion of the project is through a one-cent general sales tax that will expire as soon as our obligations are met."  He added, "I support this method because I think it is the most fair to our citizens, and I am confident that they will agree."

The City Council next meets on December 6.

(Reporter Brad Bean contributed to this report.)