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Magnolia Hotels Gains Approval to Manage LaSalle Hotel & Cafe, Bryan, Texas

By Cassie Smith, The Eagle, Bryan, TexasMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Aug. 12, 2009--The Bryan City Council has hired a new company to manage the downtown LaSalle Hotel & Cafe and agreed to pay for more than $615,000 in improvements to the historic building.

Denver-based Magnolia Hotels' five-year contract will begin after the city provides a termination notice to Lane Hospitality, the firm currently managing the hotel.

Proposed renovations to the hotel include a new information technology system, roof and window repairs, restoration of the lobby and rest rooms and the purchase of furniture. Part of the funding will be used to develop a marketing campaign and develop a concept for a bar and restaurant.

Some of the projects will go out for bid and must get final approval from the City Council, so the final cost is unknown.

Council members Jason Bienski and Mike Southerland voted against the management change and funding the renovations.

Many city officials have said they were looking for a way out of the hotel business, and the renovations could make the hotel attractive to a potential buyer.

Though he agrees that the hotel needs improvements, Bienski said, he is uncomfortable with the cost to taxpayers. Instead, he said, the City Council should be focusing on needs, such as infrastructure.

"We got rid of a company because they weren't as successful, but we didn't spend the money remodeling it for them like we are this group," he said.

Bienksi said he didn't like the idea of a city-owned hotel having a restaurant and bar that would be in competition with other downtown bars and restaurants.

Also on Tuesday, city officials met with local agencies to review the response to the July 30 fire at a fertilizer warehouse that prompted a mass evacuation of the city.

Roy Robinson, with the Texas Engineering Extension Service, coordinated the meeting to gather information to assess what worked well and what needed improvement.

Officials expect the review to be released next week.

Also at Tuesday's meeting, the council:

--Approved spending more than $119,000 for six vehicles for the parks and recreation department; more than $96,500 for equipment for turf maintenance equipment for the parks and recreation department; and more than $90,000 for lawn maintenance equipment for the department.

Officials said replacing equipment once it has exceeded normal life expectancy reduces operating costs. The replaced equipment will be auctioned.

--Approved awarding a

$3.5 million contract to Knife River to restore the area around Bryan Avenue and Beck Street. The council postponed voting on the project at its last meeting after members were divided over which local company would be awarded the contract. Knife River's bid was $14,000 less than a bid from Brazos Valley Services.

The project includes removing and replacing the pavement, curbs and gutters, installing sidewalks and replacing water and sewer lines. Overhead communication wires will be moved underground, and six-foot sidewalks and downtown-style antique street lights will be installed in some places.

--Confirmed Eric Buske as the city's new police chief. Buske, 47, will start Sept. 14. Buske was named police chief seven weeks after Ty Morrow resigned. He will make $122,000 per year as chief of the 169-person department.

Buske has spent his 25-year career in law enforcement with the Omaha Police Department in Nebraska, where he has served as chief for the past year.

--Held its first public hearing on keeping the tax rate at 63.64 cents per $100 assessed valuation. That means the owner of a home assessed at $100,000 would pay $636.40 in annual city taxes. Though no increase in the tax rate is proposed, more revenue is expected because of the increase in property values within the city, officials said.

The second public hearing will be at 6 p.m. Aug. 25 at the Municipal Office Building, 300 S. Texas Ave.

The city faces a $1.3 million general fund budget shortfall. Officials have said that, in place of increasing taxes, they are looking to eliminate 10 city positions, reduce costs in the city's facade program, shift expenses and cut some contributions to outside agencies.

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To see more of The Eagle or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.theeagle.com/.

Copyright (c) 2009, The Eagle, Bryan, Texas

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