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Mayor calls for Expo talks to halt while Kalahari decision is discussed
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BY EMILY BATTLE
Mayor Tom Tomzak says he hopes a potential Kalahari Resort in Celebrate Virginia could mean the city won't have to subsidize the Fredericksburg Expo and Convention Center.
Expo owner Tom Ballantine, however, thinks the city will always need to lend some form of financial support to efforts to lure big conventions to Fredericksburg.
Tomzak asked yesterday that the city table all discussions of providing financial help to the Expo Center while talks continue about Kalahari's plans.
Council members will hold a public hearing tonight at 7:30 p.m. on the incentives plan the city has developed to lure Kalahari.
Since October, City Council members have been talking about a proposal to make a three-year grant to the Expo Center to help it attract larger conventions that would bring more money to Fredericksburg through sales, meals and lodging taxes.
In the latest version of the proposed agreement, the city would grant the Expo Center $225,000 annually.
Of that, $150,000 would be paid as a straight grant, and $75,000 would be paid into an "opportunity fund" to help the center close deals on events it is competing with other localities to lure.
This past summer, the council set up that fund with $50,000. Some of that money has already been used, including $6,800 to attract the Harley Davidson Owners Group Virginia Rally in June.
Kalahari has been billed as a huge boon to city coffers and the "anchor" project that will get the long-talked-about Celebrate Virginia tourism campus off the ground.
It will include 100,000 square feet of convention space attached to an eventual 900 hotel rooms and indoor and outdoor water parks.
The 49 acres Kalahari plans to buy abut the 116,000-square-foot Expo Center's property, and there's been talk that the two entities could be physically connected, or at least partnered in some form.
Ballantine said those talks are still going on, and it's not yet clear what form such a partnership could take.
But he believes that even with Kalahari, the city will still need to participate financially in helping to lure conventions.
"There's going to need to be involvement from the city," he said.