News for the Hospitality Executive
|By Tom Stieghorst, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Apr. 14, 2004 - The Palm Beach County Commission rejected four proposals to build a convention center hotel on Tuesday, voting 4-3 to reopen bidding on the long-sought project.
The action came in part to curb the chance of a time consuming lawsuit from CityPlace Partners, which has protested a selection committee process that ranked it third of four plans.
"We weren't going to be selected," under the selection panel's criteria, Ken Himmel, managing partner of the big downtown developer admitted after the vote. With the decision to rebid, "We're still in the game, and that's a small victory anyway," he said.
A spokesman for Ocean Properties Ltd, the panel's favored choice, said starting over means at least six to 12 months of delay. Last week, CityPlace formally protested the selection panel's rankings, saying it showed bias and favoritism. Himmel on Tuesday declined to say if he would have filed suit.
But commissioners, eager to fine-tune the proposals, feared that anything short of re-bidding would leave a door open to legal challenge.
Complicating the situation is the fact that CityPlace owns the proposed hotel site. The county has agreed to acquire it in a complex land swap.
"I'm just concerned that this never ends without a re-bid," Commission Chairwoman Karen Marcus said.
All of the four proposals projected a county subsidy of at least $26 million in order to build the 400-room hotel. Several commissioners were uneasy with that.
"We are putting as much capital into the project as the private sector and any private lender," said Commissioner Jeff Koons.
In voting to re-bid the project, Koons was joined by commissioners Marcus, Newell and Masilotti.
Commissioners directed County Administrator Robert Weisman to get rid of unwanted features and add desired ones. The hotel will be 400 rooms, not 350. It will have a parking garage on site, not across the street. Developers must file cost projections for a hotel that includes a condo component and one that doesn't. The hotel will be tax exempt, but developers were asked to include in their projections the cost of the county making tax payments to the school board and other entities.
Developers, at their option, may address the cost of a "labor peace agreement" sought by Local 355 of the Hotel & Restaurant Employees union and supported by some commissioners.
The specifics may help move the project forward, said Charles Lehmann, executive director of the Palm Beach County Tourist Development Council.
Late last year, Palm Beach County opened its $80 million convention center in West Palm Beach without an adjacent headquarters hotel. Westin, Hyatt, Embassy Suites and Inter-Continental hotels have been mentioned as possible operators.
In addition to Ocean Properties, of Delray Beach and CityPlace Partners, of West Palm Beach, two other developers were in the final running to build the project, West Palm Beach-based Florida Realty Investments and FaulknerUSA of Austin, Texas.
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