Mayor’s tiebreaker gives Chamber & TIC new start

By Fred Arnold Telescope publisher

It took a tie-breaking vote from Mayor Blaine Miller on Monday to end a stalemate from a sharply divided Belleville city council, but for now, at least, the long embattled Travel Information Center will be morphing into a new use.

Miller’s vote will begin the process of merging the TIC and the local Chamber of Commerce/Main Street into a combined entity.

The intent, according to Belleville City Manager Neal Lewis, is to take both groups which are struggling and create a single organization that will strongly and emphatically promote Belleville.

‘What if we combine the TIC with the Chamber, offer a fulltime position with benefits at a higher salary and run the facility to promote our community?” Lewis said.

Lewis noted that both groups have been struggling lately. He said the issues with a dwindling traffic count at the TIC and a high city input to fund the facility, combined with the Chamber’s inability to find a director are the foundation for his proposal.

The Kansas Department of Transportation will close the 12th ST access to the TIC around March 27 to complete construction that began last summer.

“We know the TIC doesn’t cash flow and as it sits now I do not think it is a viable entity,” he said. ” And the Chamber hasn’t been able to find a replacement for Melinda (Pierson) because the wages are so low for the hours put in; this is an option to solve both problems.”

“Will it work? I have no idea,” the city manager added. “But if we’re going to keep it (the TIC) I feel this is the best methodology. I went to the Chamber board and presented the idea and they are very supportive.”

Council divided

That is where the battle lines were drawn for the council.

Council members Doane Sells and Adam Robertson were vocally supportive of trying a new plan.

“My whole life growing up in Belleville I have heard this won’t work and that won’t work. I’m sick of hearing that,” Robertson said.

“If we don’t try something and give it a hell of a shot we will never know if it’s a bad thing or a good thing.”

An irritated Sells told the silent crowd of nearly 15 people in attendance that he was sick of the negativity surrounding this issue. “If you want negative I can be negative about a lot of stuff,” Sells said sternly. “I see this as a positve deal. It would help the Chamber, it would help the TIC. Tourism is a part of the future of Belleville. It is more of a positive than a negative.”

Naysayers on the proposal say there is neither justification, financial solvency nor local support outside of a very few people in favor of keeping the facility open.

With the US 81 exit to L Street slated for closure in March, council member Tiffany Hansen said already low numbers at the TIC are going to get even worse.

“I have yet to have more than two people tell me they want to keep it open and I have asked a lot of people,” she said. “People my age and younger just don’t stop at those kinds of places anymore.”

Councilman Dr. Roger McCartney said it would be better to sell the facility and place it on the tax rolls as a private business.

“Everyone I talk to asks me when we are going to close it,” he said.

Sells responded and told McCartney that his attitude has been negative on the TIC facility for years.

“If you want negative I can sure as hell show you negative,” he said. “Maybe we should contact Womack Sunshine Ford and get them to sell cars out of that building,” McCartney told Sells.

“Maybe you should do just that Roger,” Sells retorted.

Mayor Miller reminded council members that they had asked the city manager to come up with a possible scenario and he did just that.

“For the time we gave Neal he came up with a pretty good proforma,” the mayor said.

“I could tell how the vote was going to go when we came in here tonight. If we do it it doesn’t have to be a permanent thing, but if we don’t try and do something positive we are going backward as a community,” he added.

“I did not have my mind made up how I would vote tonight if it came down to me breaking the tie, but I have heard some things tonight that swayed my decision and based on that I am voting to vote “yes” and support the measure.”

Miller added the codicile that if for some reason the Chamber did not support the measure the council could bring it back up again for a change of decision.

Council members voting in favor of the proposed merge were Shaun Herring, Doane Sells and Adam Robertson. Those voting against were Steve Scofield, Dr. Roger McCartney and Tiffany Hansen.