|By George Miller, Erie Times-News, Pa.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Nov. 13, 2005 - The owners of nine hotels have withdrawn as plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the county's hotel-room tax and the convention center-hotel project.
But the lawsuit is still proceeding with the remaining 14 hotel plaintiffs and is scheduled for trial during the week of Dec. 5.
Michael Agresti, the plaintiffs' lawyer, said some hoteliers withdrew because they didn't want to provide documents about operations that would become public during a trial.
The defendants had asked the hoteliers to provide records on occupancy, rates, revenues and profits, among other documents.
Others didn't have the resources to pay the costs of the lawsuit.
"It's an expensive process," he said.
The hotels that withdrew are the Avalon Hotel; Chase Hospitality, owner of Best Western on Perry Highway; Country Inns & Suites; El Patio Motel; the Hampton Inn on West 12th Street and on Old Oliver Road; The Bel-Aire Clarion Hotel; the Glass House Inn; and Lake Erie Lodge.
Still remaining as plaintiffs are seven hotels owned by Nick Scott Sr.; Lakeview on the Lake; Vernondale Motel; TraveLodge; Best Western Country Inn; Flamingo Motel; Riviera Motel; and Golden Triangle Motel.
William Correll, vice president of Inn Services, owner of the Avalon Hotel and the El Patio Motel, said his organization withdrew because of the expense of the lawsuit.
"We did it primarily because of financial considerations," said Correll, who served as spokesman for the Erie County Hotel Association during the initiation of the legal action.
"It's a very expensive process," he said. "It's a shame. I believe in the case. We as a company believe in the case."
But he said the company has to focus all its resources on keeping its operations as competitive as possible.
He said he could not speak to why the other hoteliers withdrew.
The trial is expected to last several days before Erie County Judge John A. Bozza.
The hoteliers filed suit in July, alleging the county's 5 percent hotel room tax is unconstitutional because its burden on them is disproportionate to the benefit they receive.
They also said the tax is being used to build a publicly owned and operated hotel that will compete against local privately owned hotels.
The defendants said the funds from the room tax won't be used to operate or build the hotel. Even if they were, the tax would be legal, they said in court documents.
The defendants include the Erie County Convention Center Authority; the city of Erie; and Erie County.
The lawsuit is heading to trial as construction proceeds on the convention center on the Sassafras Street Pier. Site work began in August.
Construction of the Sheraton Hotel on West Dobbins Landing is expected to begin in spring 2006.
The convention center and hotel are to open in 2007.
To see more of the Erie Times-News, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.GoErie.com.
Copyright (c) 2005, Erie Times-News, Pa.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. For information on republishing this content, contact us at (800) 661-2511 (U.S.), (213) 237-4914 (worldwide), fax (213) 237-6515, or e-mail email@example.com. HLT, CD,