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Rusty Saber

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by Joe McAdoo

Rule One from the Rusty Saber List of Rules: Never tell readers how they should vote. Rule Two: Ignore Rule One when the writer believes the issue is important.

What issue would cause me to ignore the rule that has guided this column for 15 years?

The Feb. 3 vote on a 2 1/2-cent increase in Springfield's room tax.

Everybody else has stated an opinion on this issue. Count me in. If the voters approve, the additional revenues will go toward constructing a downtown civic park, an ice skating facility, partial funding of the American National Fish and Wildlife Living Museum and Aquarium (a real mouthful, I'll call it the museum from here on), support for the Gillioz and Landers theaters, The Discovery Center and Dickerson Park Zoo.

All but the zoo and the museum are downtown. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what this could do for the downtown area.

Let's face it, tourists are attracted to places where there is something to see and do. Without the proposed projects, downtown currently offers a unique mixture of eclectic restaurants with menus far different from the usual fare of trendy restaurants tourists find along interstate highways anywhere. More restaurants are planned.

Downtown is a center for the performing and visual arts. Downtown night clubs abound. The Paul Mueller Company has opened the Springfield Brewing Company. Speciality shops are in place. Tom and Chandler Carlson have announced plans to turn the old Great Southern building on South Avenue into gallery, office and retail space.

Downtown is in pretty good shape on its own. But in order to be a major tourist mecca, something else is needed to attract people. John Q. Hammons, the Babe Ruth of Springfield, has stepped up to the plate and promised to hit yet another one out of the park for us.

He will build a 100,000-square-foot convention center, increasing Springfield's convention space by one third contingent on voters approving the room tax.

To be located on St. Louis Street, the convention center would anchor the dynamic downtown area, near the University Plaza Hotel and the other buildings Hammons has built that give Springfield its modern skyline; only one block away from the magnificently restored Victorian homes and businesses on historic Walnut Street.

It's hard for even the most skeptical voters to find a reason to oppose the room-tax issue. After all, the tourists who visit the city would pay the tax. The museum, proposed by John Morris, the business genius responsible for creating Bass Pro Shops, seems to have generated some opposition.

Since Bass Pro Shops already operates a comparatively small museum, some fear taxpayers are being asked to pay for a bigger museum to bring Bass Pro more customers. This in spite of the fact that Morris has put up $10 million of his own in land and other considerations to help fund the museum.

Anyone who has watched the growth of Bass Pro or has ever shopped there knows that Morris doesn't need taxpayers to help him attract customers. He has managed to attract millions of them, and the city has benefited in the form of the taxes they pay, not to mention money they spend elsewhere in the city.

A museum of this size and scope would attract additional tourists, and some would surely shop at Bass Pro, but it will take a shoe horn to squeeze them all inside the store. Bass Pro doesn't need the museum nearly as much as Springfield needs it.

Travelers already come to Springfield to visit Bass Pro; the museum simply makes for an additional draw. It also creates another selling point for Springfield as a convention site. The businessperson who entertains visiting clients will tell you that more of these visitors ask to visit Bass Pro than any other place.

Project this desire to several hundred convention visitors. A convention location on St. Louis Street, a national wildlife museum and Bass Pro Shops on South Campbell Avenue, and in between a civic park, an ice skating rink, restored buildings, speciality shops, theaters, live entertainment, good restaurants and night clubs. Surely a road map for success.

Soon, even more old buildings will be restored to house new businesses and loft apartments. Nothing succeeds like success.

(Joe McAdoo is former chairman of the communication department at Drury College and a Springfield public relations consultant.)

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