|By Rocky Scott, Tallahassee Democrat, Fla.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Aug. 25, 2004 - A newly appointed Civic Center Authority member's frustration over lengthy delays and spiraling cost estimates for the construction of a Marriott hotel drew an outburst Tuesday from the developer handling the project.
"If you want to build a hotel, build a hotel," said Bruce Host, a former Leon County commissioner told developer Thomas Strauss in a meeting of the authority's hotel committee. "If you want to build condos, build condos."
Host said the project had been delayed for eight years and a new request by Strauss to approve more than 95 condominiums, up from 46 previously, was going to cause more delays.
The project, started in 1996, originally called for 329 hotel rooms and four condominiums. Authority members earlier this year approved an increase in the number of condos to 46.
Plans for the hotel now call for a 19-story structure with 12 floors of hotel rooms, six floors of condominiums and a top floor dedicated to mechanical equipment. The project originally had 12 floors of hotel rooms and one floor of condominiums.
Host, one of the original backers of the project when he was a commissioner in the mid-1990s, made his remarks after authority members had been told the cost of a parking garage for the hotel had jumped from $8 million to about $9.5 million.
"Two of the those years were (expletive) up because of a lawsuit," Strauss said, referring to a 1998 lawsuit by a rival developer seeking to block the Civic Center project.
"We kept spending money for every one of those years," he said, insisting he was going to see the project through.
Strauss also told members the cost of the hotel had jumped from about $50 million to $69 million because of delays, inflation and rising material costs.
Strauss told Host and other committee members -- Tallahassee attorney Nancy Linan, Leon County Commissioner Cliff Thaell and Tallahassee Mayor John Marks -- that he would build whatever the authority wanted.
Host called the project a journey into "never-never land" because the original concept had undergone so many changes and delays.
"I share your frustration," said Strauss, who pointed to what he called "a tremendous amount of progress in the past six months."
In addition to the rising costs, authority members must now deal with finding financing for the parking garage. The contract with Strauss and his partners also calls for the developers to guarantee any annual revenue shortfall so the Civic Center can make payments on loans needed to build the garage.
Strauss offered to wrap a loan for the garage into the construction loan he says he has obtained for the project and let the Civic Center pay his company the interest on the loan.
Strauss also insisted that financing for the project was in place, but under questioning by Thaell, he said the hotel was being financed by using mortgages on the condos to obtain a loan for the construction of the hotel.
The full authority is scheduled to meet today to hold further discussions on the project.
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