Bill Marriott Makes Last-Ditch Effort to Operate City's Convention Center Hotel

With three intriguing items on the city council docket, I was originally bummed when my duties to the paper version of Unfair Park kept me from attending Wednesday's meeting. But when all of them were delayed, I was relieved having avoided a day of frustration. Since Robert filled you in on Dwaine Caraway's crusade to stop single cigar sales and the TIF for Plush, let's discuss the operator for the convention center hotel for a sec.

As Tuesday's Trinity River Corridor Project Committee meeting wrapped up, I bumped into Assistant City Manager A.C. Gonzalez, who was preparing for the Economic Development Committee meeting. I asked him why the council wasn't voting on the developer agreement and Guaranteed Maximum Price with Matthews Southwest the following day. The only item on the council's Wednesday agenda was approving the operating agreement with Omni Hotels. (That too didn't wind up being put to a vote -- more about that below.)

"We've got a lot of work to do," Gonzalez said, referring to the agreement with Matthews. To which he later added, "We're not that far off." He did say a lot of work goes into prepping the documents and working with the financial numbers but stressed that the city is standing firm at $356 million as its contribution. So everything is going smooth then?

"I wouldn't describe it exactly as peachy," Gonzalez said, but he assured me that it would be ready for a vote at the February 11 council meeting or February 25 at the latest.

However, he mentioned nothing about a holdup with the documentation regarding the operator vote, which is what forced the delay of the item Wednesday. This, at least temporarily, keeps the door open for Marriott, which is driving hard to the hoop in order to get the council to change its mind.

Marriott International chairman and CEO Bill Marriott fired off a missive to Mayor Tom urging him to reconsider choosing Omni before the vote, and Marriott representatives sent council members information to get them to change their minds as well.

First, Marriott provided a "Comparative Report Card," which shows that it is the country's No. 1 hotel operator with 3,100 hotels compared to just 36 for Omni. Marriott is also the top convention center hotel operator in the U.S., and it operates 17 hotels with 1,000 rooms while Omni has just one. (The city hotel will have 1,000 rooms.)

Council members also received an economic impact statement, which broke down the number of Marriott employees and annual payroll per district. The districts ranged from 40 to 135 employees each for a total payroll of more than $26 million.

Finally, they submitted a list of supporters, which includes the Dallas Black Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Dallas Asian American Chamber of Commerce, the Dallas/Fort Worth African Chamber of Commerce, the Dallas/Fort Worth Minority Business Council and the Pan Asian Chamber of Commerce.

Taxpayers still don't know precisely why the city chose to go with Irving-based Omni, which was chosen by the council's Economic Development Committee in a closed-door meeting. But when this thing finally gets approval from the council, the city will be forced to hand over the documents they've so far kept hidden. Till then, Marriott makes his case below.Marriott letter

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Sam Merten
Contact: Sam Merten