A privately operated conference center could be a boon to Baker City.
But the Baker City Council still needs to explain how it intends to uphold its end of the proposed contract with Sidway Investment Corp. and just how much that is going to cost city taxpayers.
The Sidways, owners of the Geiser Grand Hotel, want to redevelop the building south of the hotel to accommodate groups of up to 500. The result could be an influx of new business travelers.
However, the Sidways have asked the city to sign a contract on visitor marketing efforts and city infrastructure projects. That seems reasonable, given the sometimes chaotic administration of local government.
The Sidways are asking the city for:
1. Help from city staff for one year in applying for grants.
2. Assurance that the scope of visitor marketing will target business travelers as well as tourists for 10 years; the city countered with a five-year commitment with an option to extend that focus.
3. 150 new parking places downtown andquot;in close proximity to the Geiser Grand.andquot; The contract does not define that distance.
All three require dedication of public resources.
But the city already has staff on payroll who are capable of helping with grant writing.
And diversifying visitor marketing to target both tourists and business travelers seems like an overdue adjustment to how existing room tax dollars are spent.
On the question of parking, however, the council has been conspicuously silent. We think the council and the citizens they represent need more information on:
1. Where this parking will go and how it will be accessed;
2. What condition the spaces will be maintained in; and
3. Most important of all: How much this contractual obligation will cost the taxpayers.
Yes, the city owns 2.2 acres of almost bare ground just across Resort Street from the Geiser Grand. But the only existing access with potential for motor vehicles is at the furthest point on the property from the Geiser Grand, off Valley Avenue by the Powder River.
Is that in andquot;close proximity?andquot; Or will the city need to purchase street frontage or a right-of-way off either Resort or Washington streets to make that property useable for parking or other functions?
How much is that going to cost? Is the city going to have to buy land to meet the obligations of the contract with the Sidways?
And even once there is access to the city property, the question remains: in what condition will the parking spaces be maintained?
Pavement and gravel carry different price tags, as does restriping existing streets to accommodate more cars through angle instead of parallel parking.
How much will 150 parking spaces worth of asphalt, rock or paint cost?
Clearly, the potential future costs to the taxpayers in land, materials and labor need to be identified.
And the term andquot;close proximityandquot; needs to be defined by some agreed-upon measure. Is First Street, where the city will add about 30 new spaces by switching to angle parking, in andquot;close proximityandquot; to the Geiser Grand?
These are prudent questions for councilors to answer before obligating taxpayers to a conference center agreement.