It’s a name that reflects Newton’s history and location, recognizing its past and also acknowledging community officials’ hopes for the future. It also honors a little-known but important community figure, whose vision helped to shape the city Newton has become.
The “Meridian Center,” the name of the city’s new conference center off Interstate 135, was unveiled Tuesday night at a city work session. Community leaders also shared their goals and plans for the center, and their thoughts on how it will impact the city’s future.
“The conference center, I really believe, will be a definer of who we are,” said Barb Burns, the city’s community advancement coordinator.
The center is slated to open July 1, weather permitting.
The city explored different names for the center and finally decided on “Meridian Center” as a way to honor John C. Nicholson, a historical figure many Newton residents may not know about, Burns said.
Nicholson was a prominent attorney and mayor in Newton in the early 1900s who was an advocate for better roads.
He envisioned a road running north and south through North America, which became known as “Meridian Highway,” so named because it followed the Sixth Principal Meridian. The road is now known as U.S. 81, the precursor to Interstate 135.
Nicholson also helped to connect U.S. Highway 50 east to west from coast to coast. His dream was to have U.S. 50 and Meridian Highway crisscross in Newton, staking an important claim for the city.
“He’s pivotal to who we are in this community,” Burns said. “... He had a vision, he knew how to complete a plan, he was passionate.”
The conference center will be managed by Kemper Sports, the company alsois responsible for managing Sand Creek Station Golf Course. Michael Lunsford will serve as the center’s general manager, and Sandra Wood will be the center’s administrative assistant. The kitchen services manager has not been announced.
The center will provide a venue for business meetings, state and regional association gatherings, weddings, receptions and class reunions.
Chris Tuohey, general manager of Sand Creek Station, said the conference center also will host its own themed events, such as New Year’s Eve celebrations or Halloween parties. Other plans discussed include a Golf expo and a bridal showcase.
The center will offer a portable dance floor, margarita machine, chocolate fountain and champagne fountain for special events as well.
Erin McDaniel, the city’s public information officer, said the total cost of the conference center is $3.6 million.
The city will make a $750,000 down payment using sales-tax revenues set aside for economic development projects.
The conference center and new Holiday Inn Express hotel are part of a tax increment financing district, meaning new property tax revenues from the hotel and two commercial out-lots will be used to finance the conference center, McDaniel said.
The new hotel’s total guest tax revenues, as well as citywide revenues from a one percent increase in the guest tax that went into effect in 2008, will also help fund the conference center.
No new taxes are needed to pay for the project, and no tax abatements were offered to the developers, McDaniel said.
The center’s largest space for rent, the “grand ballroom,” is 8,000 square feet and can accommodate 450 people. The rate will be $200 per hour during peak times, and $175 per hour during nonpeak times. Smaller spaces can be rented for lesser rates.
City officials believe the new conference center will fuel the city’s growth in the future and impact the way people view the community.
This is a big step for Newton, leaders said.
“It’s going to have that ‘wow’ factor no one’s expecting,” City Manager Randy Riggs said of the center. “It’s going to be a beautiful front door for our community.”