Back five years, on February 6, 2013 at a Mayor & Board of Aldermen (M&B) workshop there was an interesting discussion among the City officials who got us into the downtown hotel boondoggle. They were considering a recommendation from the mayor’s Hotel Advisory Committee (HAC) that the City authorize $157,000 to hire Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) as the principal consultant for procurement of the site and the hotel developer.
Mayor McClement was absent and the event was chaired by then-alderman Karen Lewis Young. Also present were aldermen Michael O’Connor, Carol Krimm, Kelly Russell, and Shelley Aloi. The HAC was represented by the chairman Earl Robbins and Richard Griffin who was in effect executive-director of the HAC and regarded as the City’s project manager.
Of most interest, Ald. Young said she had heard on good authority that a downtown site had recently been bought by a private investor intent on building a substantial hotel independent of the City project. How should they handle this?
Griffin responded inconsequentially at first, gathering his thoughts, then acknowledged the possibility of an independent hotel: “…and we recognize there are several teams out there looking at sites and considering (building a hotel themselves.)”
His rationale for continuing the City-sponsorship of a hotel and the employment of a consultant was: “Just because somebody brings something forward (an independent project) does not mean it meets the needs of the things we want to see and anticipate. So we know they are out there working. So if it were a good one, the consultant would help us evaluate it.”
Young and Krimm seemed happy with that and the discussion ranged over other issues. Later Ald Shelley Aloi pushed back protesting at the notion of the City “in competition with the private sector.”
“Downtown can’t support more than one hotel”
Griffin responded the second time: “As I say if we evaluated it and it matched our needs then we’d jump on that. At this point we don’t think we could support two (hotels downtown) now, but until one presents
itself we are going to continue to move forward (with the City hotel project.) If it (a private project) does (eventuate) we will evaluate it and see if it meets our needs because one of the major elements of the major employers is that we have to have something that differentiates itself from what is currently in the market and a lot of that is related to meeting space, how that is structured and what its size is, so my gut is that we’d be on that side of things.”
Aloi: “If someone else is doing that is the consultant still necessary?”
Young and O’Connor chimed in in support of Griffin.
Young: “even when you know they’re doing it you need the consultant to say: Does this fit the needs of the city and if not then…”
“The right private sector investment”
O’Connor: “I think we have always talked about where the public sector and the private sector will work together on it. And if there is a private sector entity that wants to come here and build what we want then that is the perfect answer. But that doesn’t mean that a public participation is not still appropriate…because… we have an interest in making sure that we get the right private sector investment.”
COMMENT: So City officials with the help of $200/hour consultant experts whose total tab ended up at $335,000 and an “advisory committee comprised” of local lobbyists set themselves up as judges of what is “the right private investment.”
Dilettante control freaks, they know better what is needed than hoteliers who design their hotel investment based on what customers will support financially.
Somehow “the right investment” wasn’t quite right after all
Ironically what was deemed the “right investment” in 2013 has changed quite drastically.
Five years later the hotel has been downsized, the indoor pool and business center dropped, and the meeting space reduced. Two ‘ballrooms’ that were needed, are now one. Somehow the ‘need’ of the major employers and other interests represented on the HAC, and endorsed by the expert consultants has shrunk without so much as a sign of regret from the control freaks. What matters most is that they’re getting to acquiesce in the changes. It’s their power that matters more to the control dilettantes than the result of its exercise.
Another change — the conference center that we were told, previously, was a public sector responsibility is now fully covered by the developer. The political magicians manage to make this claim without any reduction in the project’s overall cost to taxpayers, which apparently remains in the region of $30 million.
If you want to listen and watch, the hotel workshop segment starts at about the 2:02:00 point
FOOTNOTE: Griffin said in testimony here and also in his executive summary that the costs of the HAC consultant JLL was being covered in part at least by a state Department of Housing and Community Development ‘smart growth’ grant. The DHCD has said its contract with the City did not allow for the grant to be used for consultants and was reserved for land purchase. Either the City breached their contract with the state, or misled City taxpayers. It is still unclear which.