Flap over fieldhouse funding

By Corene Brisendine

At least one Convention and Visitors Bureau board member is questioning the way the Fieldhouse Project group gained $25,000 in funding for the cost of a feasibility study from the Chamber of Commerce-based entity.

Brad Everett, manager of the Hilton Garden Inn and a CVB board member, said the CVB board last month tabled a Fieldhouse Project request for the funds to determine whether a private sports complex would be a viable tourism draw for Manhattan.

But rather than waiting for the board to reconsider the issue at a meeting Wednesday, Fieldhouse Project group backers went to the chamber’s board of directors, which oversees the CVB, to request funding last week. The Chamber board authorized CVB director Karen Hibbard to give the organization up to $25,000 of CVB money. That’s half of $50,000 project officials say they have raised to date, enough money, they believe, to fund the first part of the study.

Everett said the CVB board had decided to table the request until the June 5 meeting to give “members a chance to gather more information” about the proposed project before moving forward.

“It’s just a complete slap across our face without even considering our committee,” Everett said.

He said prior to the Fieldhouse group “circumventing” the bureau’s board, he was open to the discussion “that it is in the realm of tourism,” but he said he was concerned with the bureau funding the Fieldhouse study because they were already funding the Flint Hills Discovery Center that was also supposed to “put heads in beds.”

Everett said the Discovery Center is not bringing in the numbers it was expected to generate, and he was concerned the Fieldhouse Project could also come up short.

He said he also didn’t think that tax dollars should be used for facilities that catered to “country club” tourists who had the money to come to town on the weekends and spend $500, to the exclusion of families and youths in the community.

Even so, Everett said he expects the study to conclude that there is a market in Manhattan for the facility, and on that basis he expects the Fieldhouse group to ask for more money to build and maintain the complex. If that happens, he said, he will no longer support the group.

“Don’t come back asking for more because you didn’t respect us the first time,” he said. “It may justify support for a local occupancy tax, but I’ve washed my hands of them and I will not support it.”

Frank Beer, chairman of the chamber board of directors, said he was under the impression that Hibbard supports the study, and therefore; the chamber approved the release of funds by the bureau. But he said that support only extends to “finding out if the community can support it.”

He said the chamber was not necessarily supportive of funding the building of the complex.

Beer said he also has a child that participates on a traveling team, and added that Gail Urban’s estimate of a family spending $500 a weekend at one of the traveling team tournaments is “about right.” Urban is the president of the Fieldhouse Project group, and gave the presentation to the bureau’s board.

Urban did not comment on the matter Thursday beyond characterizing Everett’s comments as out of line and “inappropriate.”

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