MAC asks for alcohol exemption for Marion auditorium project

Requesting an exemption on alcohol consumption at the city of Marion?s auditorium to concerns about unsightly property and the lack of enforcement were among the issues discussed at the Monday, Feb. 22, council meeting.

While the councilors debated back and forth about exempting the auditorium from the alcohol restrictions, they later voted in favor by a unanimous vote of those present, with Councilor Stacey Collett absent.

Todd Heitschmidt, representing the Marion Advancement Campaign or MAC, a non-profit organization investing in the future of Marion, talked about why they should consider approving the new ordinance.

MAC continues on course with remodeling plans, he said, but one important issue that needs to be clarified is whether or not the city will consider exempting the auditorium from an ordinance that currently doesn?t allow consumption of alcohol on any city properties.

?We think this is an important aspect,? Heitschmidt said. ?Is it a deal breaker? If not, it could be.?

With plans to apply for tax credits through the Department of Commerce, Heitschmidt said the organization believed that if the auditorium is to become a community center with the idea of hosting many events, the alcohol issue needed to be addressed.

Although there is no guarantee the application for tax credits will be approved, MAC officials are confident it would help.

Dan Baldwin, city attorney, explained to the councilors that currently the auditorium is public domain, but that it could be exempted from the current prohibition.

Mayor Mary Olson said she wasn?t comfortable voting in favor without Collett present.

However, Heitschmidt said he talked with him and he understood that postponing the change could affect the application for tax credits.

?You (the councilors) would still have the authority not to allow anyone (to consume alcoholic beverages),? Heitschmidt said.

?I don?t see any reason why you wouldn?t pass this (ordinance),? he said.

Olson wanted to first see what the public had to say about the idea, but also understood they had control on whether or not alcohol was allowed.

Heitschmidt also reminded the council that there are two varying opinions on where to put a community center to include upgrading the auditorium or going out towards the ball fields.

?I think we need to vote now to get started (on renovations),? said Councilor Bill Holdeman.

Another councilor, Steve Smith, suggested limiting the change to champaign for weddings.

City administrator David Mayfield said the council would still have the authority to review each occasion on a case-by-case basis.

Doug Kjellin, economic development director for Marion, said MAC has stepped up to find $225,000 for the project.

?They have taken a leadership role in this,? he said.

From an economic development standpoint, exempting the auditorium would open opportunities for trade shows, training sessions, freeing up for more social events and maximize the investment, Kjellin said.

?In the event we don?t get the tax credits, we will be back to the drawing board anyway,? Heitschmidt added.

Another concern he voiced during the public forum portion of the meeting involved the lack of accountability he has witnessed in regard to the ordinance involving unkept property or nuisance conditions.

Directing his attention primarily to the mayor, but speaking to the council as well, Heitschmidt said that in the past three years nothing has been done regarding the enforcement of that ordinance.

?Something has to be done,? he said. ?The buck stops with the council and mayor.

?Don?t pass an ordinance if you (mayor and council) are letting some ordinances slide.?

Heitschmidt added that it?s a disservice to the public if some laws are being enforced while others are not.

?It?s time to make some things a priority,? he said.

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