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St. Charles Convention Center changes ownership following repayment of public debt

Three years ahead of schedule, the costs associated with building the St. Charles County Convention Center have been fully paid off by the St. Charles County Convention and Sports Facilities Authority. The payoff clears the way for the transfer of the facility from the Authority to the city of St. Charles.

The payoff also saves nearly $500,000 in interest payments, and frees up more than $9 million in bonding capacity for the city of St. Charles.

St. Charles Convention Center
St. Charles Convention Center (Source: DiscoverStCharles.com)

Authority Chairman Tom Wapelhorst described the Convention Center as “one of the nation’s most financially successful public convention centers, driving millions in tourism dollars to the county.”

Under a Cooperation Agreement, entered into by the Authority and the city in 2012, the city can now operate the Convention Center on its own for a period of at least 10 ten years at its sole expense. The transfer of ownership will allow the Authority to seek new projects in St. Charles County.

In order to keep the Convention Center fully staffed through the transition period, the Authority advanced money to it; however, the city was able to get a plan together and ensure a rapid and smooth transition of the Center’s operations, Authority Vice Chairman and attorney Paul Woody said.

The Authority was created by state statute as a separate governmental entity to construct economic development venues, such as convention centers, that would draw visitors to the county and generate economic opportunities for local businesses. It is managed by five unpaid commissioners: Wapelhorst, Woody, former Sen. Fred Dyer, former Rep. Joe Smith, and former St. Charles City Council member John Scherr. St. Charles County voters overwhelmingly authorized the Authority to receive a 5% hotel/motel tax to fund such projects.

To help finance the construction of the Convention Center, the city of St. Charles agreed to issue financial obligations known as “Certificates of Participation” that are similar to bonds. Although the city issued the certificates, the Authority has made all the payments owed on the certificates entirely with its separate hotel tax revenue. The Authority has also paid all of the operating and upkeep costs for the Convention Center. The Authority’s sound fiscal management ensured that no city funds were needed to pay for the costs of the Center’s construction or operation despite the economic challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic has had a huge impact on the events industry,” said Authority Treasurer Fred Dyer. “Thankfully, years of responsible management during the good years have left us in a position to enjoy considerable savings while we prepare to invest in post-pandemic opportunities.

“Recently, the Convention Center installed state-of-the-art air filtration systems that sanitize and exchange the air rapidly. As a result, the Center is well positioned to remain as a key economic driver with countless opportunities for city and county businesses as they work to recover from pandemic-related challenges.”

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