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City of Tucson Drops Gaylord Hotels from Candidate List to Build Downtown Convention Hotel;
Adds Condition Requiring the Future Hotel Workers Be Unionized
By Rob O'Dell, The Arizona Daily Star, TucsonMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Jun. 30, 2007 - Tucson announced Friday it has dropped two candidates to build its Downtown Convention Center hotel but added a condition that will require the hotel's future workers to be unionized.

The union language is just a paragraph slipped into the hotel request for proposals requiring a "labor peace agreement" between the hotel operator and any labor organization that seeks to represent employees there. In turn, the peace agreement requires the union to promise not to go on strike against the hotel.

Jaret Barr, the city's project manager, said the agreement is to protect the city's interests in the deal, given that the hotel would be financed using the city's access to low-interest, tax-exempt financing.

He said striking workers could hurt city finances because the hotel wouldn't be open. "A labor peace agreement was a way to protect the city's financial and economic interests," he said.

It was put into the city's bid specifications -- which means all hotel chains must comply -- after taking a closer look at Houston's publicly financed hotel, which ran into problems when the hotel was picketed just as it was getting ready to open because it wasn't using union workers, Barr said.

"We're learning from some of the hardships that other cities have gone through," Barr said.

The union agreement will also be popular with the city's five-member Democratic majority, which includes several pro-union council members.

Councilwoman Karin Uhlich said the agreement is obviously pro-union, but she said it is also pro-business because the union gives guarantees it won't strike against the hotel.

She said it makes sense for all sides -- including the city -- by making sure any problems at the hotel are addressed before they arise. "We want to make sure there's no disruption of service at the hotel," Uhlich said.

The city also announced the five-member hotel selection committee had eliminated two of the seven candidates to build the Downtown hotel.

One of the developers eliminated was Bourn Partners, which didn't even include a hotel in its submission. The other was Gaylord Hotels, which builds all-inclusive convention hotels and resorts that are designed to be self-contained.

Barr said because Gaylord's resorts are designed to keep people inside the resort grounds, it wasn't a good fit as an engine to revitalize Downtown because the city wants the hotel's guests to interact with the rest of Downtown.

He said Gaylord has a fantastic business plan and the city would love to talk with the company if it is looking to do another project in the region.

The concept plans for the five finalists include:

--The redevelopment of the Hotel Arizona, 181 W. Broadway, by Phelps Development LLC, with Greeley, Colo.-based Hensel Phelps Construction Co. and Hilton Hotels. The plans call for a new 30-story tower to expand the hotel to more than 700 rooms and add a spa, retail stores, restaurants and convention/ballroom space.

--Downtown landowner Allan Norville is pitching a plan to develop all the publicly owned land between the Tucson Convention Center and Interstate 10, along with a portion of the land he owns in the same area. Norville would team with Marriott and Chris Ansley, the developer of the JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort & Spa. The plan includes offices, restaurants, parking, retail and a gem museum.

--Southwest Value Partners, a real estate investment firm founded by Phoenix Suns majority owner Robert Sarver, and General Growth Properties Inc., which owns Park Place mall, also pitched a comprehensive hotel-retail plan in the same area west of the TCC, including Norville's property. The group's hotel chain is Intercontinental Hotels, which owns the the Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza brands.

--Dallas-based Garfield Traub Development proposes a Sheraton hotel on the public land near the TCC and includes retail and parking areas as well.

--Faulkner USA, an Austin, Texas-based development firm, is proposing a hotel on the public land near the TCC that would be operated by Hyatt.

Barr said that if developers are including land that is not city- owned, it must have an option, sale agreement or title to the land; otherwise, the bid would be automatically disqualified. That means the Sarver group must come up with some kind of agreement with Norville if it is including his land in its hotel bid.

The formal bid invitations will go out July 2 or soon after, and bids are due Sept. 7, Barr said. The five-member selection committee hopes to will make a recommendation later this year on which group should build the hotel, Barr said.

What do you think of requiring a unionized work force at a new Downtown hotel? Click on the comments link at the bottom of this story online at azstarnet.com/metro

"We're learning from some of the hardships that other cities have gone through."

Jaret Barr

The city's project manager

--Contact reporter Rob O'Dell at 573-4240 or rodell@azstarnet.com.

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Copyright (c) 2007, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson

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