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Dallas City Council Prepares to Allow Staff to Sell Revenue Bonds
to Fund Planned Dallas Convention Center Hotel

By Dave Levinthal, The Dallas Morning NewsMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Jun. 11, 2009--The Dallas City Council is preparing to grant top city staffers authority to sell revenue bonds that will fund a planned Dallas Convention Center hotel, officials confirmed Wednesday.

A council vote authorizing staff to sell the bonds could come as soon as June 19, the date on which council members Wednesday scheduled a special meeting.

"I think at this point the hotel issue will be on it," Mayor Tom Leppert said of the June 19 council meeting agenda.

No agenda item yet exists, and council members wouldn't speculate on the exact price or conditions of the bond sale -- a sale that would effectively allow construction to begin on the $500 million, publicly owned hotel facility bounded by Young, Market and Lamar streets downtown.

Leppert noted, however, that the agenda item would likely require city staff to sell bonds at an interest rate below 5.5 percent. The lower the interest rate, the lower the project cost.

Most city officials consider the hotel essential to the health of Dallas' flagging convention industry, and by extension, the city's overall economy.

Crow Holdings executive Anne Raymond, whose Citizens Against the Taxpayer-Owned Hotel organization in May narrowly lost a citywide referendum on whether to outlaw publicly owned hotels, says she doesn't plan to directly involve herself in a bond authorization vote.

"But we will be watching," Raymond said.

Council member Angela Hunt said she's willing to support the bond authorization so long as she's convinced city staff will seek a deal with "significant taxpayer protections."

Protections, Hunt said, include a robust contingency fund to buffer taxpayers from losses the hotel may incur during financially lean years.

"We've got to make sure there are as many protections in this deal as possible," Hunt said.

Leppert and First Assistant City Attorney Chris Bowers also confirmed Wednesday that council members will vote June 19 on a settlement proposal with people injured during a 2004 rampage by Jabari, a western lowland gorilla that escaped from his Dallas Zoo exhibit.

Dallas police ultimately shot Jabari to death, but not before he attacked four zoo patrons -- biting at least two of them -- during the 40-minute frenzy.

The settlement proposal only includes cash payments to attack victims, said Bowers, who declined to say how much the city is proposing to pay them.

The figure will become public within the next several days when the city releases the council's June 19 meeting agenda.

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Copyright (c) 2009, The Dallas Morning News

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