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Dave Bailey

PROVO — A futuristic vision of Provo emerged Thursday night during a debate between Mayor Lewis Billings and the challenger who stands between him and a third term, Dave Bailey.

The two men anticipated a day when the Provo Municipal Airport offers commercial airline service; when residences grow increasingly dependent on digital technology and benefit from iProvo, the city's fiber-optic network; and when residents enjoy a state-of-the-art $8 million performing arts center in the downtown area.

Some of those possibilities are closer than others.

Billings and Bailey both agreed a performing arts center is necessary and beneficial, and Billings announced that a long-desired center is nearly a reality. He said the fund raising is nearly complete, and the project to renovate the former Provo City Library on Center Street should go to bid in December.

Billings said he rejected previous proposals that would have cost $13 million and $25 million. Instead, he backed a plan in the range of $7 million, most of it from private donations.

"We set out to do that project without raising the taxes of the people of Provo, and I'm very proud to be one of the people who made that happen," Billings said. "It's easy to say you support the arts; it's another to raise millions to support them. We have raised millions, and many know it's not easy raise millions in this community."

Bailey corrected early campaign rumors that he was against the arts. His father was a professional performer, and Bailey said he holds season tickets to Capitol Theatre in Salt Lake City and to Brigham Young University's theater productions.

He also suggested Provo should again provide free Sunday night concerts.

The buildout of the iProvo network is more than halfway done and is scheduled to be completed next year. Bailey renewed his attack on the decision made by Billings and the City Council to build the network using $40 million in bonds without a vote by residents.

Bailey said if elected he would call for public hearings to discuss whether the city should "cut its losses" or continue to go forward. However, he indicated iProvo should go forward but that he would try to pay off the bonds with any available financial reserves, would review the contracts with the service providers who deliver phone, cable TV and Internet services over the network, keep the city out of providing services and conduct additional studies.

"We need to visit the cities that were examples for iProvo and see why they failed, like Marietta, Ga.," Bailey said. "We should approach them and ask them what they did right and what did they did wrong, and why did they fail."

Billings said he heard last week from a Midwestern city that didn't build a fiber-optic network like its neighbor and has suffered while the wired city has flourished. The first city will now follow its neighbor and build a network.

Bailey claimed iProvo subscriptions are down and that people are dropping out, but Billings said iProvo has more than 4,000 subscribers, up from 1,600 in midsummer.

"The model shows we need 10,000," Billings said. "We're going to easily exceed that."

Bailey said the city should pursue air shuttle service from the Provo airport.

"We need to entice commuter air taxi service for commuter service to Salt Lake City," he said. "We need a commuter air service to Salt Lake, Denver, Los Angeles and Las Vegas."

Billings has hinted for more than a year that private negotiations are under way for commercial air service.

"We expect you'll see scheduled regional service," he said, "not just air taxi service to SLC."

Such services could have happened sooner, said Adam Clark, who is running against two-term incumbent Cindy Richards for City Council District 5. During the council part of the debate, Clark said he was part of a team that raised $23 million to launch air service in 2001, but the investors withdrew after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Sitting between Billings and Bailey were four candidates for City Council, as if to separate the two, but the heated comments that marked their first two televised meetings were noticeably absent.

Billings and Bailey have one scheduled debate remaining. They will meet Nov. 4 during the monthly Provo/Orem Chamber of Commerce First Friday Forum luncheon. The chamber also sponsored Thursday night's debates.

E-mail: twalch@desnews.com