Oxford sets Conference Center hearing

Oxford StockBy Errol Castens

Daily Journal

OXFORD – After years of six-figure deficits in the operation of Oxford Conference Center, the Oxford Board of Aldermen will hold a public hearing about the facility’s future at 3 p.m. Dec. 17 at City Hall.

Among the questions board members will try to address will be the building’s funding, its marketing and how it contributes to the city’s economy.

On the same day they dedicated the new Oxford-University Transit facility in honor of former mayor Richard Howorth, aldermen last week also agreed the old National Guard Armory, which had served as transit headquarters since 2008, can soon be demolished.

Mayor Pat Patterson said the only reason to delay demolition – estimated to cost $35,000 to $50,000 – is if it must serve as an emergency municipal office building. Air samples were recently taken from City Hall, and while Patterson said he anticipates no findings of unsafe conditions, he recommended getting a definite answer before contracting demolition.

“As soon as those come back, I’ll assume we’re ready to take the armory down,” he said.

On a related issue, Public Works Director Bart Robinson said construction on the city’s new central fire station on McElroy Drive should begin soon.

“Notice to proceed was Monday, so they’re obviously just waiting on better weather to get started,” he said.

No decision has been made on whether to sell the site of present Fire Station No. 1 or to use it for a different public purpose. The site is at the intersection of North Lamar Boulevard and Price Street, which is within sight of the Square.

Aldermen also agreed last week to revise a proposed ordinance so that it designates an industrial-zoned area on old College Hill Road as the city’s only permitted area for adult-entertainment businesses. After learning that the site on a dead-end street just west of University-Oxford Airport’s runway meets the proposed 1,000-foot distance from Pat Lamar Park, they agreed to use that space instead of general-business-zoned areas on West Jackson Avenue.

City Planner Tim Akers emphasized that the proposal is not to encourage adult-entertainment businesses but to confine them. Court precedent forbids cities and counties to ban such businesses outright, and Oxford’s former ordinance regulating them was errantly dropped in a revising of its land-use code.

“Right now there’s no rule,” Akers said. “You could put them anywhere.”

errol.castens@journalinc.com