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The Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center.

WATERLOO — The city will borrow $1.4 million this month to fix up a downtown convention center it previously tried to give away.

Waterloo City Council members voted unanimously Monday to authorize selling $10 million in general obligation bonds May 22 to finance a number of projects and equipment purchases citywide.

The largest single expenditure includes $700,000 in interior repairs and $700,000 in roof and exterior work on the 44-year-old Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center.

Council members had hoped to avoid putting property taxpayers on the hook for the center upgrade when they voted in July 2017 to give the building to Leslie Hospitality of Omaha, Neb., which promised a $6 million renovation.

That deal, which included Leslie Hospitality acquiring and renovating the adjacent Ramada Hotel, fell through when the developer was unable to secure financing. The city retained ownership and hired a consultant to begin evaluating the building’s maintenance needs.

Council members have discussed seeking proposals from private management companies to operate the facility when the Ramada’s lease expires at the end of this year.

While the city is generally not allowed to borrow more than $700,000 a year for any single project without voter approval, Chief Financial Office Michelle Weidner said the convention center is exempt because it is in an urban renewal district.

Several other downtown projects were included among the planned $10 million bond issue, including $600,000 to redo the Center for the Arts parking lot; $550,000 for downtown property buyouts and development incentives; and $275,000 for downtown parking ramp and lot repairs.

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The bonds also will pay for some $2 million in vehicles and equipment, including a new $540,000 ambulance and seven new police cars, along with improvements to buildings, recreation facilities, bridges, the airport and traffic operations.

There were no objections lodged to specific projects during public hearings on the bond sale, but Councilman Pat Morrissey objected at length to the lack of input council members were allowed in putting together the project list.

“We’re approving something we as a council have not had the ability to look at and amend if we don’t agree with the projects that are listed,” Morrissey said. “I feel like I’m having something shoved down my throat.”

Morrissey raised a similar concern last year.

Mayor Quentin Hart said he had planned to start the process earlier this year so council members could be more engaged in selecting projects.

“I’ll take full responsibility for not doing that,” he said. “These are staff’s highest priorities for the most part.”

Councilwoman Margaret Klein said she was comfortable with the projects and said having council members go through each project would “politicize” the process.

“The experts we hire to administrate these offices … they know better what their departments need,” she said.

Weidner said the city’s current $101.5 million bonded debt should decline again this fiscal year. Despite selling $10 million in new bonds, the city is scheduled to retire $11.8 million in debt principal in June.

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Waterloo City Reporter

Waterloo city reporter for the Courier

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