As I awaited the beginning of today’s Build the Hotel press conference, council member Dave Neumann approached me. After exchanging pleasantries, he said that he remained “cautiously supportive” of the convention center hotel project, citing concerns “about the financials.”
To Neumann’s credit, he’s been consistent in his guarded support of the hotel, yet he’s voted yup-yup every step of the way, and today he was getting ready to join a coalition of big-time supporters of the project. Given his concerns, I asked if a vote was appropriate. He said no, because he was elected to represent his Oak Cliff constituency, which he claims wants the hotel, although he admitted the margin is likely slim.
Unfortunately, before I could get into his specific financial concerns, he hopped onto the platform along with the mayor and fellow council members Ron Natinsky, Tennell Atkins, Dwaine Caraway, Steve Salazar, Jerry Allen, Carolyn Davis and Sheffie Kadane. I was standing behind Carol Reed, Mayor Leppert’s political consultant, and next to Matthew Jones of the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau. Then it was time for the big show, with DCVB president and CEO Phillip Jones leading off.
“The City of Dallas desperately needs the convention center hotel if we want to retain our ranking as one of the top meeting and convention cities in the United States,” Jones said.
Jones added that the DCVB is on track for a record year. So, just to be clear, the DCVB had a record year, and Dallas ranks as one of the top meeting and convention cities, all without a convention center hotel.
But, wait! The DCVB has booked seven meetings with an estimated economic impact of $200 million and has another seven meetings with another $200 million in economic impact pending that are all contingent upon building the convention center hotel.
“It’s very simple,” Jones said. “We have to build a hotel.”
After Erle Nye, treasurer for Build the Hotel! Invest in Tomorrow’s Dallas, and CiCi Rojas of the Greater Hispanic Chamber of Commerce gave some generic endorsements of the hotel, council member Tennell Atkins went on the offensive. He cited a “Park Cities billionaire with very deep pockets” as working for more than 20 years to protect his own asset, creating “another false election.” Of course, we know the billionaire to be Harlan Crow and the asset to be the Hilton Anatole Hotel.
Atkins said Citizens Against the Taxpayer-Owned Hotel has “chosen to cherry-pick information” and is providing “misleading, inaccurate claims.” He added that elected officials should be allowed to do their jobs and citizens need to decide who they are going to believe.
Council member Ron Natinsky described the information in the recent opposition mailer as “myths” and said claims that funding will be sacrificed from police and streets are “totally false.” He also stressed that “this is not a taxpayer-paid-for hotel.” However, Mayor Leppert later said, “Dallas taxpayers will be ultimately responsible for the debt.”
Natinsky’s thoughts on why there shouldn’t be a referendum?
“The people have voted. They voted for the members of the city council and the mayor,” he said. “We think we’re doing a good job. We hope you think we’re doing a good job.”
Anne Raymond of CATOH was at the press conference and says she’s willing to sit down and justify the mailer with anyone from the pro-hotel side. She also disagrees with Natinsky’s statement about the vote.
“People didn’t vote for those people to put the city in the hotel business,” Raymond tells Unfair Park. “They voted for them to take care of the basic services that a city government is supposed to do.”
Natinsky also offered perhaps the most confusing quote of the day: “It’s easy to try to punch holes in a process that basically was done the way it was supposed to be done.”
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Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway said petition gatherers were “paid to mislead people” and were “telling false stories.” He also said the vote would cost taxpayers $1.5 million and the charter amendment would prohibit any other hotels from being built, which Raymond says is “absolutely not true.”
Like the Trinity toll road campaign, Mayor Leppert noted the broad-based support of the hotel and attempted to paint the issue as one disgruntled hotelier against everyone else.
“If we turn our back on the convention center hotel, we’re turning our back on the City of Dallas and the future of this city,” Leppert said.
Leppert, who was speaking in a loud, forceful voice, also provided the laughs for the day: “We’re not going to run the hotel,” he said. “There’s going to be competent people.” --Sam Merten