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Moving beyond talk of a conference center

After reading a Mail Tribune story last week about the state allocating $100,000 for a feasibility study on building a conference center in Medford, one social media wag opined: "I can save them $100,000. We need it."

While that may be the opinion of a considerable number of people locally — and may well be the ultimate official conclusion — it's not quite that simple. If we do need one, how big should it be? Where should it be? What kind of gatherings should it be equipped to handle?

Those are the easy questions. A tougher one: Who's going to pay for it? And, beyond the question of where the money will come from, who's going to pay an indirect price if it is built?

For about as long as we can remember, the topic of a conference or convention center has been talked about locally. And talked about and talked about ... . So it's nice there's some actual investment in the idea taking place.

We suspect the answer will be, yes, we do need conference space. There are sites locally that can handle small to mid-sized conferences, but next to nothing beyond that. The chamber's visitor and convention arm, now called Travel Medford, has made that point for years. The feasibility study may help determine how many of those big conferences we're missing out on.

State Sen. Alan Bates, D-Medford, pushed to get the study funded by the state and says he would also push to get its construction half-funded by the state. That would still likely leave tens of millions of dollars to be put forward locally, raising the question of whether we are willing to pay for the facility we've said we want.

The first site to be considered should be downtown, perhaps in conjunction with existing facilities such as the Inn at the Commons and local dining and wining establishments.. Pulling tourism dollars away from those who have already made an investment in bettering the community would seem to be the ultimate slap.

Obviously, many questions remain. But after decades of talk, at least now someone is going to provide some answers.