Clovis Mayor David Lansford (right) celebrates with City Commissioner Juan Garza on Wednesday moments after the groundbreaking for the Clovis Civic Center on Seventh Street near Schepps Boulevard. (CNJ staff photo: Ryan Lengerich)
By Tova Fruchtman: CNJ staff writer
After about 50 years of planning and dreaming, a frosty winter Wednesday morning and a thick layer of slippery mud couldn’t stop dozens of Clovis residents from attending the long-awaited groundbreaking of the Clovis Civic Center.
About 40 people watched as 20 city officials and Clovis Civic Center Steering Committee members stuck golden shovels into the freshly plowed plot of dirt at the corner Seventh Street and Schepps Boulevard.
In 1979 Clovis residents voted against funding a civic center to the tune of approximately $6 million, city officials said. Ironically, that’s the price tag of the most recent proposed civic center scheduled to be up and running by December.
Other committees and plans for an event center were formed over the years, but nothing was done until eight years ago when the City Commission at the time established a gross-receipts tax totaling one penny for every $16 purchase, funds designated for a civic center, Mayor David Lansford said.
“What made this work, probably more than anything, was a dedicated funding source,” he said.
The city now has $2.5 million for the civic center project and has taken out a $3.5 million bond. The bond will be paid back by the gross-receipts tax and lodging taxes, officials said. The city also donated $750,000 to the county events center project, Lansford said.
But the real struggle, Lansford said, was getting the community to support the project.
“Being able to communicate the need for the facility to the public,” he said, has been the most difficult part of getting the project started.
With money collected in a savings account, the community argued over how it should be spent — some believing the county and city should commit to a joint venture rather than build separate centers. However, city and county officials had different plans for the project and that idea wilted away.
It was a non-profit group of builders and contractors called Expo Inc. that brought the events center to the City Commission two years ago, said Roy Seay, president of Builders and Contractors Association of Expo Inc. and a member of the Clovis Civic Center Steering Committee.
The 5-year-old group had wanted to build an event center to give back to the community and house the annual home and garden show, Seay said. When the funding fell through, Expo Inc. took their plan and 25 acres of land — some purchased and some donated — to the City Commission.
Seay, also the vice president of Clovis National Bank, had his sights on another groundbreaking after he dug into the dirt on Wednesday. The bank will be opening a branch caddy-corner from the site of the new Clovis Civic Center.
“(The Civic Center is) going to be a booster for the Seventh Street area,” he said.
Bobby Newman, who supported the idea of an event center in Clovis for 35 years and donated part of the land it will be built on, said the groundbreaking is about the future.
“The groundbreaking (Wednesday) is a major milestone.
The city has 25 acres and that will last our city for 100 years,” said Newman, who thinks public support for the center should come not just from what is needed today, but what will be good for the future.
“The (Clovis Civic) Center will be a great community asset,” Newman said, “but think about what it will be for people down the road.”