O'Fallon Progress

O’Fallon approves hotel/motel tax hike to fund Destination O’Fallon

O’Fallonite Jack Koenig, supporter for the Destination O’Fallon project, addressed the O’Fallon city council Monday evening.
O’Fallonite Jack Koenig, supporter for the Destination O’Fallon project, addressed the O’Fallon city council Monday evening. rkirsch@bnd.com

The City of O’Fallon approved a 4 percentage point increase to the hotel/motel tax as a way to pay for the Destination O’Fallon project during a final reading on Monday night at the O’Fallon City Council meeting.

Destination O’Fallon is an economic initiative that hopes to construct a state-of-the-art multi-sports complex at the O’Fallon Family Sports Park and a new multipurpose community plaza in downtown O’Fallon.

Currently, O’Fallon has the lowest hotel/motel tax in the region at 5 percent, which brings in $815,000 annually, according to city officials. Combined with the current percent rate and the proposed additional 4 percent, the hotel/motel tax revenue generated could total about $1.5 million. The cost of the two projects is estimated to be about $9.5 million.

Robert Kueker, ward 2, and Herb Roach, ward 4, both voted in opposition to the tax increase.

“There are no tax increment financing districts being used to fund this project. It’s a pure hotel/motel tax paid by the people who come to stay in hotels in the city of O’Fallon. That’s what will pay for this, and that’s what is paying for the Sports Park you see out there today,” O’Fallon Mayor Gary Graham said.

According to Graham, the average O’Fallon tax payer gives about $70 annually to pay for the Sports Park.

“No one’s come to refute that,” Graham said. “Whether I’m mayor or not, this project will fund itself and continue to do so.”

A majority of approval was heard by residents in attendance who were all KIXX United Soccer parents or coaches.

Jack Koenig, a parent of four girls, moved to this area 15 years ago for the opportunities O’Fallon has to offer. His girls participate in O’Fallon sports and recreational activities.

“My kids like to play — soccer, basketball, baseball, volleyball — I have them involved in everything. I’ve been to all of the facilities that have been discussed over the last meetings — Overland Park, West Field in Indiana, Memphis, Tenn., and South Haven, Miss., the sports complexes there,” he said. “All of them are great facilities, and all of them attract people...This is an opportunity to continue to invest in our kids.”

Kueker and Roach said they feel Destination O’Fallon needs more hard numbers associated with the business plan and the operational costs before the city should commit to a project.

“The financial obligations and plans for this proposal as well need to be (more clear),” Kueker said. “What I would like to see is the taxes increase, because we don’t want to leave money on the table we could spend it on the city, anywhere on the city. Do they have other priorities? I’d like to see that considered during the public process.”

Supporters of the plan, including Graham, say it will increase economic growth by making opportunities for more business in downtown O’Fallon, as well as, attracting more traffic through the city with youth sporting events.

Sharing his approval of the project, Ron Zelms said he still has concerns regarding the lifespan of the proposed 12 new artificial turf fields for Family Sports Park, and the lack of frugality with the city’s drive to quarterback a “not so cheap venture.”

He discussed his research into the Overland Park facility for comparison. O’Fallon Parks and Recreation Director Mary Jeanne Hutchison previously said the life of the artificial turf fields could reach up to 18 years with proper care.

Jake Nieroda, KIXX United Soccer coach, said the life of the turf depends on the turf’s usage and management, not on a set number of years specifically.

“Turf replacement is something that is going to have to be done, but I think bringing that into question and using other facilities as an argument against this (project), I think we have to keep in mind that a turf field that was put in seven to 10 years ago may be a completely different generation of turf than we would look to put in at this facility,” he said. “It may have a completely different formation of materials used and it may have a completely different life span.”

Nieroda said soccer in the United States “grew up” and “began” in St. Louis, Mo. It’s only a matter of time before another venue is created, and O’Fallon will be passed by, he said.

“This is where soccer got its roots. There are other cities in this country now that try and take ownership over being the best soccer city in the country, but it started in the St. Louis area, so if an MLS team comes here — it’s just going to explode what this community, as a whole, looks to do with soccer,” Nieroda said.

The Belle Clair Soccer Park in Belleville has two turf fields compared to O’Fallon’s one.

“So this is not a proposal that one should look at as ‘will it work,’ The only question is if you do it will you be the first one to beat everyone else to the punch?,” Nieroda said.

Robyn L. Kirsch: 618-239-2690, @BND_RobynKirsch