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MU Arena-One Step Closer to Reality

May 03, 2001
By: Maggie Rotermund
State Capital Bureau
Links: HCR 25

JEFFERSON CITY - MU's efforts to get money for a new basketball arena is one step closer to being a reality, with the Senate Rules committee approving the arena resolution 5-1 on Thursday, clearing the way for a vote in the Senate.

The arena has cleared many hurdles since the legislative session began in January. Doubts about the donor have plagued the resolution, as well as dissent among the Columbia delegation in the House. Democratic Reps. Vicky Riback Wilson and Tim Harlan voted against the measure.

"Obviously, we're very pleased," said Sara Reesman, assistant athletic director. "This is just one more step in the process."

A vote on the Senate floor is the only obstacle remaining, which may be a leap with only two weeks left in session. Senate GOP Floor Leader Bill Kenney, R-Lee's Summit, controls what bills are considered, and his office says it is not yet on the schedule.

Rep. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, presented the arena as a bargain for the state. Proponents have claimed the 29-year-old Hearnes Center is too small for basketball and is not conducive to television coverage.

"In Connecticut, they passed a bond issue very similar to this one for a UCONN basketball arena. They issued $71 million in bonds for a $90 million project," Graham said.

The resolution would authorize $35 million in bonds to be issued before 2005. An anonymous donor has pledged to contribute $25 million, with the remaining $15 million coming from university fundraising efforts.

Graham tried to address the committee's concerns about the anonymous donor, saying that in the last 10 years there have been more than 1,000 anonymous contributions, although none of this magnitude. This is the largest single donation in MU's history.

"To put this in perspective for you, the donor could have bought a ticket to space and still had $5 million left over," Graham said.

The Bank of America issued a letter of credit, guaranteeing the money until April 24, 2002. That insurance cost the donor more than $178,000.

"Banks only issue these letters for one year at a time," Jim Snider, lobbyist for the UM system, said. "That way if someone goes broke, the bank is only responsible for a limited amount of time."

Sen. Jim Mathewson, D-Sedalia, expressed concern with the time the General Assembly had to issue the bonds. The legislature issues fiscal notes three years in advance, so there is no mandate for future sessions of the legislature to issue the bonds.

"Does this resolution really take any action except to say that we think we should have a new arena?" Mathewson asked. "I don't see any binding obligation for future legislatures."

Other lawmakers said the resolution presented an opportunity to secure the funds without tying the legislature's hands given next year's tight budget.

"I see this a way to capture the money for the short-term without a long-term obligation from the state," Sen. David Klarich, R-St. Louis County, said. "Once we enter into this partnership, the state can negotiate with the donor."

Mathewson said he voted for the measure because he don't think it meant anything. He had previously voted against the measure.

Sen. Ed Quick, D-Liberty, was the only opposing vote, with Sen. Marvin Singleton, R-Seneca, abstaining.

"I'm chair of the Budget Control Committee, where this bill would go if it had a fiscal note, and still might go. I am trying to keep an open mind, and if you vote yea or nay, I don't think you have an open mind," Singleton said.

Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, said he attended the meeting to show support for the resolution.

"This is a negotiation between the state, the donor and the donors that are yet to be known," Jacob said. "We accepted a gift today. It's like when Santa comes at Christmas--you don't take what he brings and ask for it another way, at another time."

The bill's sponsor said this decision secured the funds, while giving some control to lawmakers.

"We are trying to nail down the three legs of a stool. The donor, the university and the legislature form a partnership to support the stool," Graham said. "The governor and the legislature are the ones with their hands on the trigger now."