Plans underway for new convention center in York

11 Apr 2014


Business Expansion

YORK – Kelly Holthus, president and CEO of Cornerstone Bank, has announced that he recently purchased the 70 acres of farm land just north of his bank branch and Wal-Mart (on the east side of South Lincoln Avenue, to the southern boundary of the Sahling Kenworth property) with the intention of spearheading the construction of a 28,000-square-foot convention center.

“I’ve been thinking about this for some time,” Holthus said. “I visited with my family in January about the project and we are going to be moving forward.

“York has been good to us,” Holthus explained. “My mentor was Lige Levitt and he was always very generous, always did what he could to help the community. I decided it was time to give back. What would really make a difference, I asked myself. York’s had a lot of progressive improvements in the past few years, so I took a look at what this community really needs.

“A year ago, I attended the Cattlemen’s Ball in West Point, which was held at their new convention building, the Nielsen Center,” Holthus explained. “It’s a beautiful, very large facility – it is exactly what York needs. I said I’d like to just pick it up and move it to York.”

He was so impressed, he talked with West Point leaders and bank associates who were involved in the 2008 project. They explained how their convention center came to be and how much its meant to the West Point business community. Holthus later made another trip, this time accompanied by York Mayor Chuck Harris and York City Administrator Jack Vavra.

Why involve city officials?

“The intention is to form a private LLC to construct the facility,” Holthus said, “and also to form a non-profit corporation that will allow donations to be deductible. By forming the LLC, we wouldn’t be under the bid process as the city would be – and that will make it possible for us to use all local contractors. After the facility is built, if the city agrees to accept, we will hand it over to the city to run it, maintain it. Those details haven’t been discussed with the council as of yet, but those are the intentions.”

Holthus says he’s prepared to donate the land needed for the convention center and parking, as well as $2 million of his own money toward the project.

“The projected cost of the facility is around $6 million, so we would be looking for $4 million from outside sources,” Holthus said. “I am also prepared to guarantee any shortfall until the project is paid in full, so it would go to the city debt free.”

He’s already talked with a number of donors who have pledged their support.

“I realize there will need to be some traffic alterations in that area, with the intersections and such,” Holthus said. “Perhaps a service road will have to be built. I am prepared to donate land to the Nebraska Department of Roads and/or the city, to make that happen.”

He says members of the LLC will have the naming rights for the center itself – but inside naming rights (for individual ballrooms, etc.) would be open to entities that make large financial contributions.

“If every bank in the community had a ballroom named after it, that would be fantastic,” Holthus said. “That’s what they did in West Point and it worked out very well for them.”

The proposed convention center would be sizable enough to host large conventions and other events – including as many as three or four weddings at one time. Holthus says the convention center would have state-of-the-art technology and impressive audio/visual equipment.

“This is the perfect location for a convention center,” Holthus said. “We are right between Kearney and Lincoln. We have the hotels. It would be right at the intersection of Interstate 80 and Highway 81.”

Holthus says he feels it would also create excellent opportunities for local businesses, such as caterers, limo services, linen/dish rentals, DJ services, etc.

“And it would bring people into the community, where they would spend money in a variety of ways,” Holthus added. “I also feel very comfortable that it would bring even more businesses to that area.”

“I want this to be a community project,” Holthus said. “I came to York with nothing, I’ve made my living here and now I want to give back. It would be a legacy for my family and I think a really great benefit to the community.”

Holthus is expected to approach the city council in the near future, to explain the project and ask if the municipality is willing to accept the multi-million gift. If the council gives its blessing, Holthus says the goal is to start building in the spring/summer of 2013 with a completion date at the same time in 2014.

He also noted that because the convention center would be closely modeled after the West Point center, he will be chartering a bus for all interested persons to tour the other facility.

“This would allow York to host large conventions and all sizes of gatherings,” Holthus said. “I think it’s something the community really needs and it would create great economic benefits.”

Article Courtesy of York News Times

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