Now it’s official: a group of "area hoteliers" — the Morning News story calls the group "small" but I don’t see how you can say that knowing Crow Holdings’ Anatole Hotel is part of it — has banded together to launch a petition drive to block the city from building a taxpayer-owned convention center hotel downtown.
According to the DMN story, the group says it’s upset Mayor Tom Leppert and the city council was "overly secretive" about the project and that it will be "undertaken at the expense of basic city services, such as road repair and recreational amenities." You can expect plenty of official blowback on that second claim, since city officials have said that the hotel funding is coming from revenue bonds (bonds issues by the city to match projected revenue from the hotel) and that city services won’t be negatively impacted.
The argument may be technically true, but it’s not an absolute: Any borrowing by the city impacts its bond rating, which if weakened by too much borrowing/poor cash flow (from something like a taxpayer-owned hotel, for example) can raise the city’s cost to issue bonds to build/repair roads and other infrastructure, thereby weaking the city’s ability to repair roads and recreational amenities.
One other claim that hotel supporters are sure to raise: Harlan Crow is afraid of competition from the new hotel, and that’s why he’s funding the petition drive. That claim seems almost laughable, considering that Crow doesn’t seem to be hurting for money and that the Anatole’s occupancy is unlikely to impacted negatively by all of the big conventions that will supposedly be brought to Dallas by the convention center hotel, which isn’t going to have enough rooms to handle the largest conventions anyway. It seems more likely the Anatole would economically benefit from the downtown hotel’s alleged drawing power.
One more interesting comment from the DMN story: Ron Natinsky, the council member running interference for Leppert on the taxpayer-owned hotel, says he believes Crow’s group "stands a good chance" of obtaining the necessary 20,000 signatures required to put the charter amendment on the ballot. But get this: He told the DMN that even if enough people sign the petition to bring the project to a vote (likely in May 2009), Natinsky says the city won’t stop spending money on the hotel pending results of the election: "We’ve been doing our work. We’ve been spending money. I don’t think we should stop, or that we will stop." Other unnamed city officials said they hope to begin physical construction of the hotel early next year — before the referendum, if called, even takes place.
Won’t that be an interesting decision for Leppert — will he blow off 20,000 or more Dallas voters who asked for a vote on the hotel and start construction anyway, or will he step back from his pet project — angering some big-time supporters — and wait for a May election. Talk about a catch 22 if he has any plans for a political future.
And hey, doesn’t that conundrum sounds similar to the one Leppert has created with the whole Ross Avenue – Cesar Chavez deal?