When Al Lipscomb's the Voice of Reason About the Convention Center Hotel, We're All Screwed
In separate 10-2 votes, the Dallas City Council approved developer and operator agreements with Matthews Southwest and Omni Hotels for the convention center hotel, leaving the $525 million bond issuance as the final vote remaining before the project is officially given the green light. While the city waits to float the bonds until the financial markets settle, the question everyone wants to know is if the May 9 referendum kills the project and the bonds have already been sold, is the city going to press forward regardless?
"I don't know the answer to that," says Warren Ernst, an assistant city attorney working closely with the hotel project.
"I'm not answering any hypotheticals," says City Attorney Tom Perkins. "And I'm not discussing issues we may be looking at."
"I've asked the question," says Jack Matthews, developer of the hotel. "I don't have an answer."
With that key question left unanswered, let's go through what the two naysayers had to say before we dive into Carolyn Davis's decision to forgo voting on the issue.
Vonciel Hill had one simple question for Assistant City Manager A.C. Gonzalez: "Did either Marriott or Omni offer to operate this facility as an owner?"
Mayor Tom Leppert quickly jumped in and said, "The answer is no. Neither one offered to jump in as an owner."
But Gonzalez described how the process weeded out ones involving private ownership because the city would have been required to kick in a significant subsidy.
Angela Hunt pressed Gonzalez about the $50 million reserve account, which he admitted would need to be replenished and said it was a deal point that still was not finalized.
"If we don't know whether or not we're putting taxpayers' dollars at risk, it doesn't make sense to me, and I think it's irresponsible for us to approve this today," she said. "There aren't buckets of money lying around this city to replenish that account. That's going to have to come from taxpayers' dollars."
Hunt was also critical that council members received the developer agreement Monday night and the operator agreement yesterday afternoon, and she noted that the agreements can still be modified without council approval.
Carolyn Davis directed her criticism at Gonzalez and Ade Williams, director of business development and procurement services. She said Williams has not spoken with her about the hotel project, and the first time Gonzalez discussed it with her was Sunday at 9 p.m.
She also brought up Tennell Atkins, who spent nearly 20 minutes patting himself on the back about all the work he did to bring M/WBE businesses into the project. Davis said she asked him about the hotel, and he simply told her it would bring jobs without discussing the key deal points.
"I want to say that I have supported the convention center [hotel] from Day One," Davis said. "I walked the streets to get votes to make sure that this happened. And I will continue to support the convention center hotel, but as you know, we don't agree on everything, and this is one perhaps I might not be voting on today."
Sure enough, Davis chickened out when the final votes came up. She returned afterward and issued this statement: "Of course I knew what I was doing, but I support the convention center hotel, and I'm going to stay on top of making sure that you guys do what you say you're gonna do and not just talk the talk."
There were only a handful of public speakers on the issue, most of which were representatives of Omni or Marriott. But there was one in there that bears mentioning: former council member Al Lipscomb.
Sitting next to his grandson and District 8 council candidate LeVar Thomas, Lipscomb walked up to the microphone and blasted Leppert for his support of the hotel, saying there were more than one million empty room nights in Dallas's top hotels last year and the mayor was acting as if there were "billions to throw around" while money is tight.
"Don't let this man do this to you," Lipscomb said. "You are not a dictator, sir."