JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri lawmakers Monday squashed legislation that would have empowered the University of Missouri to move forward with its plans to build a new performing arts center.
MU officials have voiced support to lease university-owned property at the corner of Stadium Boulevard and College Avenue to a private developer willing to build a hotel and convention center. The profits generated by the development would be used to create and operate a performing arts center for MU.
But the measure narrowly failed in the House by a vote of 69 to 68. Since this provision was no in the Senate version of the bill, it must now head to a joint House/Senate conference committee.
Rep. Tom Dempsey, R-St.Charles, lead the movement to kill the measure. A small business owner himself, Dempsey said the legislation would have given an unfair advantage to one private developer over other business owners.
"As a small business owner, all I ask for is a level playing field," Dempsey said.
He added that the legislation's wording is vague, opening the door to other UM-supported commercial developments.
But Rep. Vicky Riback Wilson, D-Columbia, argued that the university is looking for an innovative way to fund a performing arts center instead of turning to taxpayers.
"This is a creative solution that lets everyone win - the university, the communities and the state," she said.
Riback Wilson added that if the MU land is developed, it would return the land to the property tax rolls, generating more tax revenue for the state.
UM Spokesman Joe Moore said the university had hoped the measure would pass.
"It is a disappointment," Moore said. "And this was an effort during tight economic times to maximize the use of some of the land owned by the university."
But the university isn't giving up.
"We will probably begin working toward having similar legislation approved in the future," he said.