Back in February, my political prognistication was that the group supporting the taxpayer-owned convention center hotel would ultimately win, and that’s what happened Saturday. The vote was close, but the result is clear, and we’ll soon be the owners of a $500 million-plus hotel downtown.
There’s really not a lot to add to what happened Saturday; those of you who voted knew the issue well enough, and those of you who didn’t … well, don’t ever say the campaigns debating the hotel left much to the imagination. If you wanted numbers, you had to look for them but they were available. If you wanted personal attacks, they were there, although I don’t think it was the offensive donnybrook some decried. And if you wanted vision and dreams, well those are always in plentiful supply these days.
So what does it mean going forward?
• Mayor Tom Leppert has done more in the past couple of years to change the face of Dallas than any other mayor in the past 30 years. I’m not impressed with Leppert’s decsion-making on the big deals, but you can’t say he shrinks from the job — and I mean that as a compliment. He’ll have the political good-fortune to run for mayor again in two years, and if the wheels are going to come off the hotel or the Trinity, they probably won’t be off before he runs again. So barring some incredible stumble, I don’t think Leppert is beatable if he wants to stick around. Even most of the people who voted against the hotel seem to like the guy, and you can’t buy that kind of goodwill.
• Downtown is already on the upswing, with the arts district coming online this fall and more downtown housing ready to open. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I like going downtown. It’s fun. It’s different. And it’s pretty easy to do these days. Former mayors Ron Kirk and Laura Miller get most of the credit for this transformation, along with John Crawford and the downtown group he leads. I don’t honestly know if a great city needs a great downtown to be successful anymore, but I think during the next 10 years or so, we’re going to find out. Even without the convention center hotel, downtown was going to be great. An additional $500 million in taxpayer money isn’t going to hurt.
• Whatever Leppert wants to do during the next couple of years, he’s going to have the council he needs. All incumbents, save one, are back, and Carolyn Davis could still win her runoff against Ron Price. Leppert will be able to continue marginalizing Angela Hunt, who stands as the only Dallas political figure even remotely as identifiable as Leppert. But make no mistake: If Leppert wants to make something happen, he’ll be able to do it.
So there you have it. It will be a few years before the hotel comes online, and I’m sure we’ll hear about it from time to time as the inevitable cost-overruns and politial shenanigans crop up. But the hotel supporters sold the project as a panacea for everything that’s wrong downtown, and honestly, even those of us who thought taxpayer-ownership of the facility was a dumb idea want to believe that claim.
So here’s hoping that everything works out as Leppert and the hotel supporters claimed; this is one time I’m hoping to be wrong, because it’s in all of our best interests to make this deal work now.