Council reverses course, approves exhibition center consultant

Appleton’s council voted late Wednesday night to approve $25,000 in funding for a private consultant to help with exhibition center negotiations.exhibition

A private group wants to build the $25 million facility downtown and Ald. Jeff Jirschele authored a plan to have an outside expert look out for Appleton’s interests in the yet-to-be-signed long-term lease agreement.

“We need to take this over the goal line,” Jirschele said Wednesday. “Let’s lead on this, find a way to move the process along and get it to success.”

The 9-6 vote Wednesday came after a deadlocked 6-6 vote at the last council meeting two weeks ago. Summer vacations and a vacant seat led to light attendance, so Council President Chris Croatt called for another vote.

Ald. John Robin Hill said the money is needed to protect Appleton in the business negotiation.

“We’re swimming with some pretty big fish. I don’t want to call them sharks — but they are business people looking to take advantage of a deal,” Hill said. “This $25,000 is going to be used to hire our own big fish to see to the interests of Appleton, and to protect us.”

Opponents of the money say the private exhibition center board already has enough expertise. The lease will be a plan between the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel and the board — meaning the city is not a signing party.

“I have to question why is Appleton being asked to spend $25,000 on a private partnership agreement, between private stakeholders and a hotel,” said Alderwoman Cathy Spears.

Alderwoman Sarah Garb also opposed the move, on procedural grounds of the second vote.

“We don’t do dress rehearsals around here… I think people want a second bite at the apple,” Garb said. “And I wholly reject that if we don’t vote for this we’re not a leader.”

The funding still needs a budget adjustment through the city’s finance committee, and will get more discussion next week.

Walt Rugland, head of the private exhibition center group, said the funding is affirmation that the city fully supports the project.

“I hope we can use some of these funds to help with drafting the lease,” Rugland said Thursday. “That’s the next piece to this — getting the lease drafted and presented to the city this fall.”

— Nick Penzenstadler: 920-996-7226, or npenzenstadler@postcrescent.com; on Twitter @npenzenstadler

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