Downtown’s convention center hotel: Iconic, signature or just a boondoggle?

We’re in the process of expanding the Advocate’s office space, and our landlord was kind enough — after extracting our company’s written guarantee on a couple of really thick legal documents — to give us a substantial sum of money to make our current office more attractive and inviting. We told the architect we wanted something iconic, a signature office space. And we told him our budget.

He drew up the plans and sent them to three contractors. I kid you not: The lowest of the three bids was 40 percent over the money we had set aside for construction. And that lowest bid price didn’t include half of the stuff we really wanted.
Suddenly, the idea of having an iconic, signature office space didn’t seem so appealing, because it would require us to dig deep into our pockets for a whole lot of money we don’t have to spend on frivolous stuff right now, given the economy and all. We wanted an office that showed people we’re successful and cutting-edge, but we want to stay in business, too, and it’s more important in our business to spend money on our people and our ability to produce readable products than to have the coolest office around.

So if we’re lucky, in a couple of months we’ll have some fresh paint, some new carpet, an HVAC system that actually blows cold and hot air where it’s supposed to, and maybe a couple of flat-screen TVs to showcase our new website (coming soon to a computer near you) in our sort-of-new office space.

I thought about all this while reading the most recent tidbit in the DMN about our upcoming taxpayer-owned convention center hotel downtown, which Mayor Tom Leppert and his council buddies have said should be an iconic building, a signature structure that helps define what Dallas is all about. The story talked about how one councilman said the word "iconic" apparently didn’t sit well with his council brethren, presumably those who want to be re-elected, even though the assistant city manager ramrodding the deal said that "iconic" and "signature" mean basically the same thing.

Interestingly enough, the prospective hotel operators — not the owners, mind you, since that’s us; we’re talking about the companies that we’ll be paying lots of money to run the hotel for us — told the city they didn’t want an iconic structure gracing downtown Dallas if that meant the interior architecture and amenities would suffer. Think of your own hotel experiences — do you stay somewhere because the building is famous or because the pillows are soft, the breakfast is free and the price is right?

In other words, the professional operating companies said that if we can’t afford a building that’s both functional and iconic, we need to build a functional one. So what does the city guy tell the DMN? He still wants the building to be a showstopper. And why not? He and the mayor and the council are spending our money — not theirs.

You know, I’d like an iconic office for our magazines, too, but the contractors are telling us we don’t have enough money for that. And since the city isn’t kicking any in, we’re going to have to live within our means.

That’s the way it works in the real world. Correction: That’s the way it’s supposed to work.


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