City must avoid Motown debt

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By Dave Bell

It was an impressive array of vendors and contractors that was assembled by Motown Technology for Monday’s meeting with the Vandalia City Council. Participants included representatives of Wyndham Hotel Group, IBM, Select Contracts, Hunt Construction Group, TSI Global and several other design and construction companies.

One by one, at the invitation of developer Kenneth Bardwell, those representatives told of their expertise and the part they would play in the creation of a proposed $300 million sports and entertainment complex in Vandalia.

He called them a “world-class development team.” Though we don’t yet have detailed background reports on each of those vendors and contractors, it was certainly an entertaining and notable procession.

Trouble is, two extremely important elements of the project are still missing.

First, Bardwell still has not done a feasibility study for the mammoth project. That study, presumably, would show whether this area could support such a complex. Do we have the critical mass of customers in this region to make it fly? Do we have the pool of qualified employees from which he could draw? Are all the necessary infrastructure elements available?

And second, he still has not assembled adequate financing. After months of work, he asked Monday night for another extension – until June 2010 – to find adequate capital to launch the project.

It’s a tough time for any business, but for one with so many unanswered questions, it’s truly scary. Investors must have extreme confidence in the project in order to put their money on the line.

Bardwell told the council that he’s “very, very serious about bringing this project to fruition.”

We don’t doubt his sincerity. And we applaud his vision. Not many would have the fortitude to tackle such a project.

What we’re concerned about is the city’s exposure. How much will the city will be obligated to invest before the doors are projected to open on this project four years from now?

As it is, the city is struggling to meet its current budget. At Monday’s meeting, aldermen raised water rates for the second time in two months, and other cost-cutting measures were announced. We simply don’t have the resources to pour huge amounts of cash into the Motown project.

The council can let Bardwell have the time to find his investors. But it must not obligate the taxpayers to prop up the project if the funding doesn’t come through.