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Mingei International Museum Criticizes Escondido, California's City Council
for Withdrawal of Support for $60 million Marriott Hotel Project

By David Garrick, North County Times, Escondido, Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Jul. 15, 2009--ESCONDIDO -- Calling the proposed downtown Marriott a "courageous and visionary project," the director of the Mingei International Museum has sent City Councilman Dick Daniels a letter criticizing his recent withdrawal of support and urging him to reconsider.

Meanwhile, the developer proposing the hotel has helped organize a separate letter and e-mail campaign urging Daniels and two other council members who oppose the Marriott to change their minds.

Support from three of the five council members would be required for the $60 million project to move ahead, but the developer has had the votes only of Mayor Lori Holt Pfeiler and Councilman Sam Abed since Daniels withdrew his support in early June.

The 196-room hotel has been hailed for many years as something that would bolster downtown restaurants, museums and other businesses. But Daniels and council members Olga Diaz and Marie Waldron balked this spring at giving the developer $12 million in subsidies during a severe city budget crisis.

Daniels said Tuesday that neither pressure from the Mingei nor the letter campaign have made him reconsider withdrawing his support for the hotel, which would be built on a parking lot between City Hall and the California Center for the Arts, Escondido.

"I'm already well aware of what a great project this would be," said Daniels, explaining that the letters contained no new information. "My issue hasn't been with the hotel, but with the uncertain nature of the city's finances. And at this point, I don't have any reason to believe we're out of the woods."

But Mingei director Rob Sidner called Daniels "shortsighted" and said his flip-flop on the hotel was "tremendously disheartening" to museum officials, who opened a satellite location on Escondido's Grand Avenue in December 2003.

"Mingei International Museum has made a major economic and cultural investment in Escondido," Sidner said in his letter to Daniels, which was dated June 30. "We need the continuing support of the city to expand the possibilities for cultural draw to the area."

Sidner also said Marriott's confidence in the project should be "enough conviction for wary council members."

On Tuesday, Sidner said Mingei's investment in Escondido included spending more than $4 million on the abandoned, 23,000-square-foot J.C. Penney building at 155 W. Grand. He said the museum, which is headquartered in San Diego's Balboa Park, has also spent nearly $1.8 million keeping its Escondido site filled with interesting exhibits and activities.

Sidner said he chose to lobby Daniels instead of Diaz or Waldron because Daniels seemed more "open" to the project. But Sidner said he had not gotten a response from Daniels.

Meanwhile, council members said they had received dozens of letters and e-mails supporting the hotel during the past two weeks from ordinary citizens and labor unions representing construction workers who might help build the seven-story hotel.

Craig Clark, the developer proposing the hotel, said Tuesday that a public relations firm he hired has helped coordinate the letters and established a special Web site, supportescondidomarriotthotel.wordpress.com.

"We're trying to make it easy for people who want to support the hotel to tell the council that they want the hotel," said Clark, contending that a small and vocal minority of opponents has obscured strong community support for the project.

No previous efforts had been made to mobilize supporters because council support was unanimous until Diaz was elected in December, he said.

Clark said the goal of the campaign was to persuade the City Council to schedule a public hearing where he could explain his latest financing plan, which lowers the required city subsidies from $19 million to $12 million. The city's projected return on its investment would be nearly 14 percent, he said.

Diaz said she was pleased that Clark has begun to show an interest in gaining support from ordinary Escondido residents. But she said many people she has spoken to withdraw their support for the project when they hear about the subsidies.

She also said it was frustrating for the council to have to reject the hotel over and over, referring to the fact that the project is on the council's closed-session agenda for Wednesday night.

"This project just won't go away," she said. "It's almost becoming disrespectful of the council's time."

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To see more of the North County Times, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.nctimes.com.

Copyright (c) 2009, North County Times, Escondido, Calif.

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