Cape City Council OKs moving ahead on River Campus

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

One of Cape Girardeau's more controversial issues in the past decade, the River Campus project got the city's endorsement Monday night in an action that will allow Southeast Missouri State University to raise the baton on a $35.6 million performing arts center and regional museum.

For an issue that has been mired in litigation for nearly four years, for a project that city and university leaders say could be an adrenaline shot to the regional economy, there was little discussion among the council Monday night when it unanimously determined that the university and state have shown enough financial integrity to move the project forward. The university can now issue bonds.

"This is a big night for the city and a big night for the university," said Mayor Jay Knudtson. "I look forward to moving forward."

But that may not be easy.

A third lawsuit could be upcoming from Cape Girardeau businessman Jim Drury. Drury was in St. Louis and could not be reached Monday night, but his attorney, William S. Drusch, said he will probably discuss what action could be taken with his client today.

Drury had sued the city, saying the city is going around the will of the voters by committing money to pay off the university's bonds. But the Missouri Supreme Court concluded Drury's challenge couldn't be reviewed unless bonds were issued.

The litigation was prompted by a November 1998 election in which city voters raised the motel tax and extended the restaurant and motel taxes to 2030 but failed to give the needed supermajority to a bond issue to help fund the project.

By committing funds, the city may open another round of litigation.

'Just ready to move on'

The council and university officials have been working with attorneys behind the scenes to make sure the university's financing proposal meets the requirements of the ordinance passed Monday night. The ordinance states that the council made the determination that the university and the state "have committed funds in an amount sufficient to complete the acquisition, construction, furnishing and equipping of the joint facilities."

"I'm just ready to move on," said council member Evelyn Boardman. "The economic impact of this project is so beneficial to us. And the cultural aspect of it is invigorating and exciting."

The ordinance passed Monday night was a requirement of a cooperative agreement made between the city and university on Dec. 21, 1998.

Two bond issues

The financing plan consists of two separate bond issues by the university through the Missouri Development Finance Board.

The city's share of the project, $8.9 million, will be called Series A bonds. Those bonds will be paid out over 15 to 20 years with a hotel/motel tax, said Dr. Ken Dobbins, Southeast president. The city will make an annual payment to the university, which, in turn, will pay off the bonds.

The rest of the $22.7 million in bonds would be paid from $16.55 million in state appropriations and donations not yet raised by the university's foundation.

The foundation has to come up with $10.15 million for the project. Dobbins said about $7 million in cash has been raised so far, meaning roughly $3 million is left to raise. The $3 million, an amount that could go down by the time the bonds are actually issued, will be bonded.

On Saturday, the foundation and the Board of Regents said it would guarantee the $10.15 million will be available when it is needed.

Knudtson, after the meeting, said there were a few details to iron out before the council gives second- and third-reading approval at the next meeting.

"They're very minor, confidential details," he said.

Dobbins said he was pleased with the council's action.

"This is a great project for the city, the region and the university," Dobbins said.

He said the university will be looking to issue the bonds by some time in late spring, although some aspects of the project will be moved up so the city can go ahead with its plans to build the Fountain Street corridor, a downtown exit off the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge, which is due for completion next fall. City council members have expressed a desire to have Fountain Street completed by the time the bridge is finished.

Construction on the River Campus should begin some time in fiscal year 2005, Dobbins said. It will take at least a year to design the River Campus and three years to build it, he said.

Also on Monday night, the council approved the conceptual plans for the River Campus Museum.

New speed limit

Responding to concerns about traffic near Notre Dame Regional High School and Eagle Ridge Christian School, the Cape Girardeau Police Department, along with the Missouri Department of Transportation, recommended to the council that the speed limit on Route K -- from the intersection with County Road 317 to the western city limits -- be dropped from 55 miles per hour to 50. The council approved the recommendation.

bmiller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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