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Ground breaks on new events center (with video)

Aaron Hagen/Daily Globe A group of city officials breaks ground on the new events center Monday afternoon in Worthington.2 / 2

WORTHINGTON -- Sunshine and blue skies greeted community leaders and project stakeholders on Monday as they took part in a groundbreaking ceremony for the Worthington Events Center, scheduled for completion early next year.

Ken Moser, chair of the events center committee, told the crowd that while the project has had some "economic burps," the road is now being paved to host events and conventions capable of accommodating groups larger than 400.

Moser said while the goal is not to bring in the "Republican National Convention, or anything like that, the intent all along was to have a gathering of as much as we can."

"It's been a pleasure to work with the city, (and it) will have a beautiful place," said Don Klain, president of the Lighthouse Hospitality Group, which will operate the hotel and events center.

Worthington Mayor Alan Oberloh thanked voters who supported the project. He predicted residents would soon be saying, "Wow, I can't believe we got by without a facility like this."

Oberloh said after numerous trips to the state legislature, he is excited for the city to host bigger events, including weddings and conventions.

Klain said the project's main hurdles have involved development and financing, but added those are common with any project.

Oberloh said one of the biggest challenges was getting the project approved during the economic recession. He added the center will be something the community can be proud of.

"This has been a long day coming," said City Administrator Craig Clark, who thanked residents for their patience. He said he thinks the toughest challenge was finding the right partners during the economic downturn, noting that search was responsible for the delay in breaking ground on the project.

Clark estimates the overall project cost at about $3.75 million. The half-cent sales tax local option sales tax referendum passed in 2008 will deliver nearly $3.5 million to the effort.

Clark said a bridge loan financed by local investors is about $400,000 and will possibly be used for pre-opening expenses, such as marketing costs. He said the more private investors found, the less bridge loan money will be needed.

The event center project, which also includes an on-site hotel, represents a unified effort between the city of Worthington and Lexington Hotel Development Group to bring banquet and convention facilities to the city. A Comfort Suites, by Choice Hotels International, will feature three floors and 75 guest rooms in nearly 50,000 square feet of space.