Council, River Campus board looking for way to move forward

Monday, October 28, 2002

Cape Girardeau mayor Jay Knudtson wants a lot more talk and, perhaps, a lot more action.

Knudtson has set up a city council study session with the River Campus Board of Managers for 6 p.m. today so the board can bring the new council members up to date on the project and so the two bodies can get to the point where they can move forward.

"The River Campus issue is a 4-year-old issue," said Knudtson, who began his first term as mayor in April. "I'm at the point now where I feel we're at a crossroads, and I feel we need to move forward in some capacity, whether it be in a partnership or whether it be in a different direction."

Councilman Matt Hopkins agreed.

"I'm hopeful that whatever we hear Monday night will facilitate the project one way or the other so we can move onto other issues," he said.

The River Campus is a development project that would transform the old St. Vincent's Seminary on Morgan Oak Street into a Southeast Missouri State University performing arts center. The project, stalled by a pair of Jim Drury lawsuits that have been ruled upon in the city's favor, would also include a museum and be the first structure visitors would see when they crossed the new bridge from Illinois.

The city has promised $8.9 million to the project, while the university is trying to raise $10.2 million. The state has said it will add $16.6 million to the project.

However, while the city has been collecting restaurant and hotel taxes for the project and while the university has been raising funds, the state's ability to fund the project is a bit murky.

While the state has appropriated funding for the project, Gov. Bob Holden has withheld the funds because of the state's tight financial situation.

That wild card -- not knowing when or if the state will come through with its share -- is what is holding up the project at this point.

Not yet comfortable

Knudtson said he believes the project is a sound business decision for the city. However, he's not yet convinced that the funding is secured.

"The council has to feel comfortable, assured and guaranteed that the financial integrity of the project is in place," Knudtson said. "Given the financial condition of the state and the university, that is a valid question."

Southeast president Dr. Ken Dobbins said there is $4.6 million in state funds in the bank ready to use. However, he said the $4.6 million cannot be used unless it is matched by the city and the university foundation, the group collecting the money for the school. Dobbins said the foundation has enough to match that amount.

The state is still withholding $12 million.

Dobbins said he believes that the economy will turn around -- every 10 years there is an economic downturn, he said -- and the state will kick in its share within a few years. Dobbins said work on the project should begin as soon as possible because many are waiting for the start of the project to make donations and because of the effect of inflation on construction costs.

But others, including state Rep. Jason Crowell, think it could be wise to hold off on starting the project.

"I support the concept, but if the state can't get the money to send the project forward, we need to make sure we're cognizant of that," Crowell said. "Everybody says we want financial integrity, everybody wants development in south Cape. I just want to make sure we don't spend money on a project we can't complete."

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