Over the weekend, Don -- didn't catch his last name -- was at Dallas Farmers Market collecting petitions for the no-hotel folks. Amazing how many farmers market shoppers claim they are not registered to vote in Dallas County ...

Sure, We've Signed the No-Hotel Petition. But, Look, We'll Sign Anything.

Citizens Against the Taxpayer-Owned Hotel, which has already changed its name, is wasting no time in its efforts to get the 20,000 signatures required to force a May referendum on the convention center hotel. Petition gatherers have been spotted across the city, radio ads are hitting the airwaves, and expensive mailers hit Dallas homes over the weekend.

The mailer cites higher taxes, cuts in public services, spiraling costs and bigger deficits as risk factors associated with the hotel, while also noting that downtown Dallas does not have a shortage of hotel rooms, as more than one million were empty last year. Surprisingly, it also guarantees there will be no profits from the hotel: “Why should the City of Dallas use your tax dollars to become involved in a private enterprise guaranteed to fail?”

Anne Raymond, managing director of Crow Holdings, says she doesn’t know the cost or extent of the mailing effort, so we’re waiting to hear back from consultant Brooks Love for more info. But she addressed the so-called guarantee, saying it was made “based on everything I know.” Raymond rejects the new hotel projections provided by HVS Consulting to this city this year, which are drastically different from a similar study performed by HVS in 2004. She says the ‘04 projections are more accurate and would result in the hotel losing $180 million in its first 10 years of operation.

“I guess I can’t actually guarantee it,” Raymond tells Unfair Park.

CATOH labels the hotel as a $400 million project, which is technically true since the city budgeted that amount for construction of the hotel. But the mailer fails to mention that the total bond issuance will be approximately $550 million, which will include repayment of the $42 million land purchase and around $50 million in reserve funds, along with bond issuance costs and capitalized interest.

The timing could not have been better with the struggling U.S. economy and horror stories coming from other cities such as San Antonio, whose convention center hotel, the Grand Hyatt, still isn’t finished after opening its doors in March. The developer of that hotel, FaulknerUSA (which finished second to Matthews Southwest in the bidding in Dallas), faces 17 lawsuits and 68 liens filed by subcontractors and workers because of cost overruns.

And, heck, even Jacquielynn Floyd, who was looking forward to last year’s Trinity River toll road referendum “with the same sense of tingling anticipation ordinarily reserved for a root canal,” endorses a vote on the hotel. Rick Wamre, publisher of the Advocate, recently blogged about the mayor’s role in this mess.

“I have plenty of faith in Dallas and our future. I just don't have faith in Leppert anymore,” wrote Wamre. “And the more he talks, the more I'm convinced he's wrong for Dallas.”

Hotel proponents, such as developer Jack Matthews, argue that elected officials should be allowed to do their jobs and cast votes for their constituencies without having to face referendums. But hotel critics like council member Angela Hunt, who is “happy to let someone else lead a referendum in this city,” note that Dallas is not an exclusively representative form of government, with the charter allowing for such measures.

“I’m fascinated by the people who are somehow insulted that the stupid electorate would dare question the decisions made by their betters at City Hall,” Hunt tells Unfair Park. “I just find that insulting that anyone questions whether or not referenda are appropriate. Of course they’re appropriate.”

Mayor Tom and the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau are scheduled to make their case Wednesday at an 11:15 a.m. press conference in the Flag Room at City Hall. --Sam Merten

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