The Gonzales City Council took steps Jan. 9 to upgrade the J.B. Wells Expo Center with the intention of making it more accessible to conferences. Following a brief presentation from Tourism Director Ashley Simper, council voted 4-1 to direct staff to request proposals for the purchase of digital equipment and portable room dividers. Councilman Gary Schroeder was the lone dissenter in the group.
“The J.B. Wells Expo does not currently meet the needs of our prospective clients,” Simper said. “Meeting planners and event organizers—at a minimum—are looking for flexibility within a space. Ability to create private meeting spaces, rooms for break-out session and events, as well as, digital equipment such as screens, projectors, video conferencing, etc.”
Simper estimated an aggregated total of $60,000 to 90,000 for the project. She also further elaborated on the types of digital equipment she had researched at for the project.
“At 15,000 square feet, (the Expo Center) may be too large for a standard projector and screen. However, we’ll take a look at that option,” Simper said. “Another option that will be considered are large flat panels that are strategically placed within the space and can be programmed with all necessary presentations as needed.”
The project is not in the city’s current budget, but Mayor Connie Kacir mentioned the Economic Development Corporation and Hotel Occupancy Tax funds as potential funding avenues. Schroeder expressed reluctance to the project because of the city’s pending lawsuit regarding J.B. Wells.
“I know we have to spend money to make it. My only concern is, in our current situation with our litigation, I would be a little reluctant for the city to invest, as she put it, any monies at this time in that facility,” Schroeder said.
The city is embroiled in a lawsuit with an Austin-based Presbyterian seminary group regarding the city’s following of the terms set for the park by late J.B. Wells in his will. In June 2019, the 13th District Court of Appeals upheld a trial court’s decision to deny the city of Gonzales’ plea to the jurisdiction in the suit. With the appeal denied, the case remains a probate matter and eventually will be heard as such. As of press time, a trial date has not been set.