January 18, 2013 12:58:02 PM
Jeff Clark - [email protected]
A more than $2-million renovation project for the Trotter Convention Center will begin later this year, with some work possibly beginning as early as May, city officials said Thursday. The project to renovate the city-owned facility could take up to two years to complete.
"When the county agreed to do the financing for the Columbus Soccer Complex, one of the things the city agreed we would do is do some renovations on the Trotter Convention Center," Mayor Robert Smith said. "We are now at that point where we are going to start the process."
Smith said the initial work will be done on the building's interior. The project includes installing Wi-Fi, upgrading the restrooms, installing a new elevator from the Second Avenue North entrance as well installing a new sound system and lighting. Exterior improvements include redoing copper awnings, installing restrooms in the courtyard and installing new benches.
"We know this is going to cost at least $2 million," Smith said.
The funding for the project will come from an in-lieu tax agreement between the city and Columbus Light and Water. The city will pay back $200,000 a year for 20 years on the project.
"An in lieu tax agreement means Columbus Light and Water will pay the city a fee instead of sales tax," Chief Operations Officer David Armstrong said. "We have collected $1.6 million in-lieu , which was budgeted in this year's budget. Columbus Light and Water is giving us an additional $400,000."
Columbus Light and Water Manager Todd Gale said the in-lieu agreement was approved by TVA.
The Trotter was created in 1983 through House Bill 1069. The bill also established a two-percent hotel tax to fund the Trotter and provided for its upkeep. While the two-percent restaurant tax can be repealed in 2018, it is up to the city if the hotel tax is repealed. Under Section 2 of HB 1069, it states, "For the purpose of providing funds to promote conventions and to construct and maintain convention facilities in Lowndes County, Mississippi; there is hereby authorized a "convention tax" to be levied upon every person, firm or corporation operating hotels or motels in Lowndes County in an amount not to exceed two percent (2%) of the gross proceeds of sales from room rentals of all such hotels or motels in Lowndes County. Such tax shall be in addition to all other taxes now imposed."
Former Chief Financial Officer Mike Bernsen said the Trotter operates as a city department.
"It, like every city department, is funded through the general fund," Bernsen said in an earlier interview. "As a matter of fact, it has a budget of almost $307,000 plus an additional $18,400 in debt re-payment -- its actual budget is $325,573. The $250,000 collected doesn't even cover its budget. We also keep part of that money in a special fund just for the Trotter. That account currently has $75,000 in cash -- this money is used for the upkeep and repair of the Trotter."
Armstrong said the two-percent tax money would not be used for the renovations.
"The two-percent hotel tax money goes into the general fund," Armstrong said. "(The renovations are) all going to be done through Columbus Light and Water money."
The Trotter renovations are just one of what Armstrong called a "two-prong" agreement between the city and its utility company.
"We are also going to help the city with an energy efficiency project," Gale said.
The energy efficiency project will provide lighting upgrades in most city buildings including City Hall, the Columbus Police Department and five fire stations. The project will cost an estimated $418,000 and will be conducted through the technology solutions group Siemens.
"We will be getting some rebates and incentives from TVA so we will be reducing the debt by about $75,000," Armstrong said.
Gale said the city will be using its savings from the upgrade to finance the project, which according to Armstrong, will save the city about $30,000 to $35,000 a year. Armstrong said the project should pay for itself within 10-11 years.