By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Batty: Three days before Christmas, The Dallas Morning News gave its former parent company, Belo Corp., an early gift by editorializing on behalf of building a publicly owned $525 million convention center hotel. (We say "former parent" because last year Belo spun off its newspaper biz to a new company called A.H. Belo. It's all very incestuous, so to keep things simple, we're just gonna call 'em all the Beloans, like a tribe.) As mentioned in May on our blog, Unfair Park, the Beloans own nine investment properties near the Dallas Convention Center valued at $22.8 million, a fact the News conveniently leaves out of its coverage.
But rather than believe A.H. Belo CEO and chairman Robert Decherd simply picked up the bat phone and gave the command to editorial page editor Keven Ann Willey, Buzz wanted to know the real scoop, especially given the board's previous three editorials on the hotel that endorsed a May citywide vote on the project, called public ownership a "risky proposition" and urged city leaders to "tap the brakes."
A DMN'er was able to shed some light on the subject. He maintains the paper has always supported the hotel, which it has for many years, and only recently was critical of the funding method. However, after a hotel cheerleading squad led by Mayor Tom Leppert visited the board October 21, opinions changed for three key reasons.
First, Leppert told them a maximum price for the project would be established, meaning once a price was agreed upon with the developer, any cost overruns would fall on the developer. Second, he convinced them that public financing was the most logical way to get this sucker built. He also proved the May vote doesn't mean jack shit regarding this project because construction will begin in April.
The editorial failed to note that the maximum price had been part of the plan months before Leppert spoke to them, and being the Morning News, it didn't call out the mayor on his dismissal of a citywide vote on the project. What are the damn taxpayers' opinions worth, anyway? Jim Mitchell, author of the editorial, declined an opportunity to answer our questions.
Mitchell has a lot to answer for, including his final statement claiming the city has lost more money than it saved by not building a hotel, offering nothing other than vague and unreliable city estimates to support his argument.
We tried one more time to get answers, only to find out Mitchell was on another call. Something about a bat phone.