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Convention center idea in limbo

by Paul Darst

STAFF WRITER

With last month's announcement of a $750 million planned community in Bridgeport, the future of one county-led project now is uncertain.

A development firm announced in October plans for construction of Charles Pointe, a development that will include a hotel and conference center.

Since last summer, the Harrison County Commission has worked to bring such a center to the area, a project that may no longer be needed, said Beth Taylor, commissioner.

"The way I look at it is now, we have one," Taylor said Friday. "My view is that this is now a moot issue."

In 1999, a consulting firm hired by the county issued a report, which concluded that a hotel and convention center could be successful here, Taylor said.

Six months later, commissioners started trying to find a team to lead the project. Each group would consist of a land owner, architect, engineer, hotel chain and others involved in the project.

The county would not be involved in the actual development, but only advocate and support the project, Taylor said.

The initial search ended in January and yielded three local teams. Commissioners later decided to reopen the search in an attempt to find more options. That search ended this summer with two more teams expressing interest.

The commission has not yet been presented with the new list of teams, Taylor said.

One of the groups that responded to the original search is now part of Genesis Partners, a firm created to coordinate investments in Charles Pointe, she said.

The commission has not discussed the conference center since the Charles Pointe announcement, county administrator James Harris said.

Commissioners Roger Diaz and Thomas Keeley could not be reached for comment Friday, but Taylor commended Bridgeport for taking the lead in the project.

She said the county should not push for another hotel and conference center for the area.

"The study clearly showed that one hotel and conference center could be successful here only if it had public support.

"If someone was of the mind to go ahead with a second one, that action would put nails in the coffins of both projects."

Charles Pointe also will include shopping, recreational areas and more than 250 "smart homes." Groundbreaking for the proposed conference center could be this spring.

Staff writer Paul Darst can be reached at 626-1404 or by e-mail at pdarst@exponent-telegram.com.

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