In a 5-2 vote, the Bell County Tourism Commission voted to allow the city of Pineville to use the restaurant tax money to help fund the hotel project. The five members that voted yes included: Jon Grace, Mike Long, Steven Easton, Rosemary Combs and Steven Sharp.
“Considering the EPA’s attack on coal, I’m hopeful that this project will now be able to move forward and new jobs will be created as a result,” said Bell County Judge-Executive Albey Brock. “The tourism board should be commended for taking action and, if all continues to go well, will have a positive impact on our community for years to comes.”
Brock also stated that the meeting took place 40 plus days after the previous meeting to give all that was involved ample time to make an informed decision.
Middlesboro Mayor Bill Kelley said he didn’t believe the hotel project will change the whole area instantly, but he believes it is another piece to the puzzle. He also stated that the project will bring more jobs to the area.
“I think (the project) is good for the area,” said Kelley.
“I am thrilled about the vote,” said Pineville Mayor Sherwin Rader. She said the vote means progress for the city of Pineville and Bell County.
Rader believes the new hotel will draw more people into the area with its capability to bring in conventions.
The entire amount for the Wasioto Hotel and Resort project is $14.3 million. Through the restaurant tax, the city of Pineville will fund $1.3 million through general obligation bonds. The hotel will consist of over 100 rooms and many other amenities.
Prior to the motion for a vote, it was unknown if the three new members (Long, Grace and Sharp) were going to get to take part in the meeting. The tourism commission brought attorney Luke Morgan of McBrayer, McGinnis, Leslie and Kirkland, PLLC to the meeting to answer questions on behalf of the commission.
The main issue that Morgan was trying to argue was the validity of how the new members were selected. Morgan’s advice to the commission was to not recognize the newly appointed members until the issues were cleared up.
Morgan stated that the hotel owners were not notified by anyone. Morgan also claimed that both Brock and Kelley had to choose their appointee from a list that was submitted by the commission.
Kelley stated at one point during the meeting that all of the members on the board may have to be looked at to make sure they were all serving legally.
Brock said they didn’t have to consult the commission on their individual appointments. He stated that both the mayor and he had an individual appointment. According to the ordinance, the judge executive does have the ability to appoint one member of the board without consultation.
At one point during the meeting, attorney Gill Johnson of Steptoe Johnson Law Firm stated that if there was an issue with the new appointees then the commission should have the problem sent to the Bell County Circuit Court.
Since confusion still existed among the new appointees, chairman Tom Shattuck asked for a motion to table the recognition of the new board members until a later date. Due to the lack of a second, the motion was killed.
At one point, Combs asked the commission what was wrong with the three new members. Following that, there was a motion made to recognize the new members. The commission received a first and a second for the motion.
At first it was believed the vote ended in a two-two draw, but after Roberts Rules were read by Morgan it was concluded that Shattuck could not vote to create a tie. This meant that the vote was two to one in favor of recognizing the new members.
Shortly after that, Combs read a letter involving the hotel project and in the process made a motion to use the restaurant tax to help fund the hotel. The motion received a first from Combs and and second from Grace. Before the vote took place, several people in the crowd had a discussion about the issue.
One individual involved in the discussion was Sam Mars III. Mars stated that given the demographics of the town, he believed that the hotel would not do as well as expected. He stated that to meet expectation the hotel would have to stay full year-round.
Mars said he was requested to build a hotel with more than 70 rooms. He stated that after a year- long study, he found that a larger hotel would not work for the family company.
There were also individuals that were against using the money to fund a “private” hotel. Despite discussion from certain members of the audience, the vote for the funding was yes.
One of the only things that could prevent the hotel from becoming a reality is the failure to sell the bonds.
Anthony Cloud is a staff writer for the Middlesboro Daily News. He can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.