Monday, September 27, 2010

Tucson's downtown hotel: Historical context of a complicated project (Part 3)

The saga of Tucson's proposed downtown mega-hotel has been a continuing drama for a few years. To offer an historic context to the current pending decisions, here is a series of news articles.

The original Request for Proposals
Downtown Revitalization Development Opportunity, Convention Center Headquarters Hotel
July 2007-- three years ago! No wonder Tucsonans are frustrated!

Economic downturn in the west
Brookings report finds LV among hardest hit
Las Vegas Review-Journal, December 2009.

City Council starts to debate the wisdom of the hotel project
Dialogue is changing on downtown hotel project
Inside Tucson Business, February 2010.

Local businesses are pro-development
Downtown vision, future is in new hotel, TCC
Inside Tucson Business, February 2010.

Are convention centers and hotels the great investment that developers say they are? (AKA the $190 million question.)
Space Available: The Realities of Convention Centers as Economic Development Strategy
by Heywood Sanders for the Brookings Institution, 2005.
This reports reveals not-so-rosy statistics about many cities that have built new convention hotels and convention centers to boost economic development. Sanders, an academic, was interviewed by local media in the spring of 2010, but the City Council gave him minimal time to explain his findings. It's important to note that the Brookings report was published in 2005; the economy has only gotten worse since then. In his interview on the John C. Scott show, Sanders said many US cities have traveled the convention center hotel road that the City of Tucson is now on. Some put up the funds and built the hotels; others decided to be more prudent and not build. It is scary to ponder what this huge debt could do to these heavily-leveraged cities if the US economy, in general, and unemployment, in particular, do not pick up soon.

Hotel Industry Fights Back
The Rhetoric vs the Facts: What the Brookings Report Fails to Reveal
The International Association of Exhibition Management pushed back after the Brookings Report was published in 2005.

Another "debunking" of the Brookings' Report, 2005.

Local hotel owner/opportunist wants a piece of the action
Chamber backs city lease after hotel upgrade
Arizona Daily Star, June 2010.

Using city bonds to upgrade hotel is a bad idea

Even the Arizona Daily Star doesn't go for Lopez's idea for lining his own pockets with Rio Nuevo funds. June 2010.

Desperate construction workers want jobs
Workers flock to back TCC hotel construction

Arizona Daily Star, June 2010.

More questions than answers
These questions need to be answered before we OK a convention hotel
In Inside Tucson Business, Councilman Steve Kozachik uses the media to push for answers from Garfield Traub (the hotel developer) and from the Mayor and Council, June 2010. This article is a thorough overview of the funding and the issues.

Phoenix convention hotel occupancy less than 50%
Downtown Hotel Hell
A dose of convention hotel reality from Phoenix, thanks to the Tucson Weekly, September 2010.

Hotel hell devolves as bloggers offer options to City Council
Give downtown hotel site to the Apache Indians
A View from Baja Arizona blog on the Tucson Citizen website, September 2010.

Sensing the fear of local politicians, the hotel's developer offers another funding plan
New hotel-finance plan unveiled
Sensing that local politicians lack the will to go hundreds of millions of dollars in debt to finance and build the hotel, Garfield Traub offers an alternative funding plan, according to Arizona Daily Star, September 2010. GT suggests the creation of a real estate investment trust (REIT) which would finance the hotel. The problem with this idea is that the city would own all of the risk if the hotel sits empty, but the REIT would reap the profits if all goes well. (This is a really bad idea for the City of Tucson!)

The City Council and the Rio Nuevo Board play hot potato with the project
To build or not to build-- who's decision is it anyway? Apparently, we don't know. When the Arizona Legislature created the Rio Nuevo Board to oversee expenditure of the RN funds, Kozachik and others (including me) thought that meant they would oversee and make decisions on projects like the downtown hotel, but the RN Board passed the buck back to the City Council last week. On Sunday, the Arizona Daily Star called for someone to make a decision.

Three years, many plans, and millions of dollars later, Tucson still doesn't have a downtown hotel. Now what? As I have said many times, I do believe that Tucson would benefit from a larger, updated downtown convention hotel, but after having heard multiple interviews with Sanders about his convention hotel research, I am convinced that now is not the time for Tucson to take on massive debt and that the GT proposal is not the right plan for Tucson in 2010.

Stay tuned for future developments.

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