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"When I look at the staff presentations, they are remarkably limited and incomplete. They are not balanced in any sense, and that's very problematic," Sanders says. "It speaks of a staff that's trying to keep a mayor happy and sell a project and not a staff that's trying to put all the facts on the table in a neutral and professional way. And that's very scary."
The mayor and city council claim a hotel is necessary to save the city's $1 billion investment in the convention center, yet Sanders says they have not provided clear, reliable data to support the notion that the convention center is struggling.
In fact, a study by HVS Consulting, which was commissioned by the city, notes that the Dallas Convention Center experienced "significant growth" with more than 911,000 attendees in 2007 after averaging 728,000 from 2004-2006. The study also says "this strengthening trend is expected to continue through 2010."
Proponents argue a hotel is essential to increasing attendance at the convention center, but the city has failed to provide evidence to support such a claim. For example, the McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago averaged 3.1 million total attendees from 1995-1997 before opening an attached 800-room hotel in 1998. That year, attendance was 2.9 million and was followed by another three-year average of 3.1 million from 1999-2001.
The addition of the hotel had no positive effect on Chicago's convention business, and even with 2.7 million square feet of exhibit space (by comparison, Dallas has 1.15 million), attendance at McCormick Place dropped to an average of 2.2 million attendees from 2005-2007.
Rasansky says this is not the time to be undertaking this project without knowing the future of the convention business, and he describes the city's progression toward the project as "scary" and "frightening." Like Sanders, he's also critical of city staff.
"I think they have been talked to by someone there who wants to get this thing done, and they're scared to death not to go forward," Rasansky says. "They're following those orders and who is giving those orders."
Opponents have until November 15 to collect signatures. The city secretary will validate the signatures by December 15. The final hotel development agreement is scheduled for a December 10 council vote, and the city is expecting to sell bonds for the project in January.