Submitted by David Sawyer – Director, Burwell Economic Development
September 22, 2020
In July, a survey was mailed to all Burwell area residents regarding the proposed new community/conference center – which has been discussed for several years. The survey objective was to collect input from as many as possible to confirm that plans for a new center meet the needs and expectations of the community. Almost 300 surveys were returned, meaning that the number of responses exceeded the level required to consider the results statistically valid or representative of the entire community. Therefore, the community/conference center planning committee, and other community stakeholders, can rely on the input from the survey as a significant factor as center features/plans are considered and developed. This article presents the highlights of community/conference center results, and outlines the next development steps. The complete survey result details are available at the Burwell economic development office.
The majority of survey respondents (88%) were positive about a proposed new community/conference center. The general conclusions that can be summarized from the survey responses are reflected in the following categories.
MOST REQUESTED ACTIVITIES
According to survey responses, the types of activities a new community/conference center should be able to accommodate are ranked below.
1. Wedding receptions
2. Community social events
3. Catered parties/events
4. Family reunions
5. Community meetings
6. Graduation parties
7. Business meetings
8. Large group conferences
Important – Neutral
2. Small committee/board meetings
3. Trade show exhibits
6. Rodeo history exhibit
7. Visitor information center
8. Theatrical plays/productions
1. Youth basketball practices
2. Legion Club meeting area
3. Youth volleyball practices
4. County fair exhibits
Based upon the survey responses, the primary features that appear to be required for the new community/conference center are summarized below.
1. Large/open meeting area (to accommodate up to 400 people)
2. Basic kitchen (as opposed to full-service kitchen)
1. Smaller meeting/board room
2. Large entrance door (to accommodate large equipment)
3. Rodeo history exhibit
4. Visitor information center
Optional – Not Required
1. Divider for large meeting area
2. Practice sports court
3. Permanent stage
4. Legion Club area
Concerning how large the facility needs to be, the majority indicated that the center should be able to accommodate about 400 people, although thirty-two percent indicated that the center should hold more than 400 people.
Preferred locations for a new community/conference center are shown below, in order of preference. The top two choices were selected by 57% of survey respondents, and another 34% indicated a desire for another location or wrote in specific suggestions – such as the third location reflected below.
1. Industrial park area
2. Garfield County Fairgrounds
3. Southwest corner of L Street and Highways 11/91
If possible, the project committee’s intention is to avoid financing to fund the new community/conference center. However, in response to the survey question about whether or not the city should consider borrowing some portion of the funds to build the new facility if needed, more than two-thirds (72%) indicated that they would consider supporting an initiative to finance a portion of the project in order to make the facility become a reality for the community.
A number of misconceptions were expressed in the comments sections of the survey responses. Some of the misconceptions are addressed in this article in order to help the community better understand the potential community/conference center project, and other related topics. Below are some of misconceptions, followed by simple responses in italics.
o Survey Comment: “The population of the community is declining – why invest in a shrinking town?”
Actually, the population of Burwell and Garfield County grew more than 7% in the last census, and the trend appears to be continuing.
o Survey Comment: “The center size should be limited, as it only needs to accommodate local residents.”
Actually, while the center will certainly facilitate local activities, it is expected that larger groups – many from outside the community – will also utilize the center. Groups previously wanting to visit the Burwell area to enjoy our unique natural resources and hold various types of meetings/events, are often too large or otherwise not able to utilize one of our existing facilities.
o Survey Comment: “A new center would not enhance business.”
Actually, as the center brings in events/groups from out of town, businesses/jobs will be positively impacted. Additionally, locals currently going elsewhere to hold large events, will be more inclined to stay/buy in town.
o Survey Comment: “The city loaned the movie theater money to purchase the new digital system required to re-open the facility. If that were paid back, that could help fund the new center.”
Actually, the city did not loan the movie theater any money.
o Survey Comment: “If the center is located at the fairgrounds or the industrial park, the city will not benefit, as the center will be located out of the city limits.”
Actually, even if the center is located out of the city limits, the additional visitors attracted to the center as a new event destination will still benefit the local economy.
o “The community should not decide to move the Legion Club – it’s their decision.”
Agreed. The survey question regarding the Legion Club was only presented to determine if the community thought it would be good to plan additional space to accommodate the Legion Club IF they decided to take advantage of being in the new facility – as has been done in other communities.
o Survey Comment: “Locals will not pay to use a new center.”
Actually, locals pay to use existing smaller facilities now, and many have expressed a willingness or eagerness to pay to utilize a newer/larger facility if available.
o Survey Comment: “Taxpayers will be paying to build a privately owned facility.”
Actually, the center will be publicly owned/operated.
o Survey Comment: “The center would only benefit investors and not community businesses.”
Actually, there are no private investors that will earn a return on this public facility. Community businesses will benefit from increased visitors.
SUMMARY & NEXT STEPS
Overall, the survey results appear to be fairly representative of the feelings of area citizens regarding the concept for a new community/conference center. While some concerns were expressed, the largest number of survey responders were positive and supportive of moving forward on the project. The survey responses provide the project committee, as well as local government officials and citizens, valuable input with which to make future decisions regarding the direction of the proposed new facility.
The next steps to move forward are included in the list below.
1. Review survey report and refine project definitions.
2. Review list of individuals offering to serve on the various project committees, contact, and set-up committees as needed.
3. Determine if additional communications are needed to present the survey results.
4. Pursue discussions with property owners of top potential facility sites, including determining the feasibility/timing of expanding the city limits to include the two top sites (fairgrounds, industrial park), as the facility needs to be in the city limits in order to qualify for most funding options.
5. Commit to one location for the new facility.
6. Develop high-level facility project specifications, including prioritized features (based on survey input).
7. Provide facility project specifications to at least three developer/engineer/contractor firms and request high-level proposals that will include their expertise, past projects, recommended square feet for stated needs, approximate cost per square foot, and process suggestions.
8. Select one developer/engineer/contractor firm and enter into an agreement to develop concepts and related cost estimates for consideration.
9. Hold public meetings to present new facility concepts and encourage support.
10. Pursue various funding sources and support fundraising activities (including major focus of this year’s Fall Festival – A Time for Giving campaign, October 23-24, sponsored by the Burwell Community Fund).
11. Start project work, based on agreed upon reasonable percentage of project funds confirmed, utilizing local contractors, volunteers, and in-kind and material donations as much as possible.
Those wanting additional information regarding the survey results, or the overall community/conference center project, can contact David Sawyer at the Burwell economic development office at 308-346-5210. A copy of the detailed survey results report is attached here as a PDF document, and is available at the economic development office, located at 404 Grand Avenue in downtown Burwell.