City takes over Meridian Center operations 

By Adam Strunk 

The city will now manage the Meridian Center.

The city commission signed off on a termination agreement with long-time management company, Kemper Sports Management, which has overseen the city-owned event center.

“With the additional negative financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the city had to find ways to reduce the costs of operating the center and cancellation of the management agreement became a necessity,” the staff memo presented to the Newton City Commission at its Dec. 22 meeting stated.
The severance agreement between the city and Kemper Sports has the city paying all wages, health insurance and employee benefits for coverage of staff at the facility up until the termination date, as well as other anticipated expenses up until that date.

The city has the option of hiring Meridian Center employees following the takeover. The director, Michael Lunsford, for instance, previously had a non-compete clause in his contract.

“We are thankful that Kemper has graciously agreed to release staff from non-compete clauses and transferred vital staff, such as Michael Lunsford, to a city employee,” McElroy said.

Kemper Sports also runs Sand Creek Station golf course and will continue to do so.

“Kemper has been great to deal with throughout and through this process,” City Attorney Chris Towle said.

The vote to take over operations passed unanimously.

McElroy later stated the city savings would amount to at least $61,800, what it annually paid as an operating fee.

We anticipate some additional savings due to items such as proprietary software and programs utilized by Kemper that we won’t need or utilize,” she stated. “This change also gives us flexibility to change operational models to meet current economic needs.  That is incredibly important to the city commission going forward, especially during the pandemic.”

The city built the $3.6 million convention center in 2011. The funding for the Meridian Center varies. Debt service payments come from a special taxing district that the Meridian Center and the Holiday Inn occupy, as well as the city’s hotel bed tax.

In other news:

* The city approved licenses to sell cereal malt beverage licenses for off premises for Dillons No. 84, Dillons No. 84 Fuel Center, Nusser Fuels and Kwik Shop.

* The city commission approved an ordinance that would allow it to issue a mobile home installation ordinance that a person would have to receive before installing a mobile home.
The reasoning for the action stated in the city memo was that it would allow the regulation and inspection of mobile home installations and revocations in the city. The permit would run $50.

* Dondlinger and Sons was awarded the bid to reconstruct Taxiway-E at the city and county airport. The work is being paid for by grant from the FAA, with the city and county splitting 10 percent of the project. The city’s share comes to $342,700 for the project.

* City facilities are closed Thursday and Friday.