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Updated April 23, 2007 12:43 PM

Election forum focuses on growth

In a mild-mannered debate between candidates for various Bryan and College Station city council races, some of the biggest disagreements came in the race for Place 1 on the College Station City Council.

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Eagle Photo/Gabriel Chmielewski
Robert Miksch Jr. (left), John Happ and John Crompton, candidates for College Station City Council Place 1, participate in a forum Sunday at the KEOS-FM 89.1 radio studio in Bryan.

The debate, sponsored by KEOS-FM and the League of Women Voters, centered partly around building a convention center and funding of the arts in College Station. The election is May 12.

The three candidates, John Crompton, John Happ and Robert Miksch Jr., offered different views on whether and how the city should pursue building a convention center.

Miksch said he's always opposed the idea because he thinks the city can't support the amount of traffic or offer enough attractions to lure large groups to College Station.

"We are not a true destination city," said Miksch, who owns Aggieland Automotive. "The reason why you have conventions is to either reward your employees or reward your customers. There is not enough entertainment structure here to be able to do that."

Crompton and Happ both support the construction of a convention center.

But Crompton, a Texas A&M University professor, said A&M should be a partner in the project because much of the center's usage would be by the academic field.

"As [Texas A&M] grows, it's to our advantage to have major scientific meetings in this town," he said. "So I believe there is incentive for the university to come to the table."

Happ, who has served on the College Station City Council for five years, said consultants have determined that the city needs and could sustain a convention center. But he agreed with Miksch that voters should approve the project before the city goes forward.

Miksch said there would be "hidden costs" associated with building a convention center, such as maintenance and an increased police presence when groups are in town.

But Happ said creating a tax increment finance district would fund those costs.

"You need to understand how a TIF works in order to understand how we're going to fund and maintain a convention center," he said. "A TIF takes the sales tax from a certain area, and that sales tax goes to fund the convention center. So it's kind of a two-way street. The more people you bring in, the more money they spend in that TIF area and the more sales tax you're going to have and the easier it is to maintain the convention center."

The candidates also had different views on funding for the arts in the community.

Miksch said the City Council should "wean" the Arts Council of Brazos Valley off of city funding, forcing it to become self-sufficient.

He said the group should operate more like Texas A&M's 12th Man Foundation, the school's major fund-raising arm for its athletics programs.

"The 12th Man stands alone on the fact that people who support collegiate athletics at Texas A&M are the ones who fund that," Miksch said. "I believe there are a group of individuals in College Station who believe that the arts are that important. I believe they'll fund that."

Happ said he agrees that the Arts Council should become less reliant on city funding, although much of the group's funding comes from hotel/motel taxes. Those tax dollars can only be used for certain projects, and arts is one of them.

The city's current budget includes $240,000 in general fund money for the Arts Council.

Crompton said the city is getting a lot for its contributions to the arts, considering the amount of volunteer work and the groups' own fund-raising efforts. Expecting the arts groups to become self-sufficient is asking too much, he said.

"That's just the way it is. It's not a commercially viable project," he said. "It's a part of our heritage, part of archives, it's a part of who we are. We should continue [funding the arts]."

Candidates from other races also spoke earlier in the forum.

In the race for Single Member District 2 on the Bryan City Council, Karen Zimmerman Gonzales and Mike Flores talked about attracting new businesses. Paul Madison did not attend.

The candidates for Bryan mayor, Mark Conlee and Mary Kaye Moore, debated on the errant accounting practices of city staff, some of which occurred during Moore's tenure as city manager.

In the race for Bryan Single Member District 4, Flynn Adcock, Lloyd Joyce and Ann Horton, talked about the challenges of balancing the city's growth with preserving quality of life.

• Greg Okuhara's e-mail address is greg.okuhara@theeagle.com.

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