|By Rob O'Dell, The Arizona Daily Star,
TucsonMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Dec. 12, 2010--After contending that downtown's Hotel Arizona was about to close, hotel officials are not allowing guests out of their contracts to use the venue for conventions and gatherings.
Hotel Arizona owner Humberto Lopez now adamantly denies he is closing the hotel. He contends General Manager Todd Lavigne's statements that the hotel would close if it didn't receive a taxpayer-funded improvement package were "unauthorized."
But Lopez and other company officials won't answer any questions other than to cite their written statement Friday that the hotel has no plans to close.
Lavigne said Wednesday that the hotel at 181 W. Broadway laid off 30 employees and closed its restaurant and gift shop indefinitely. Most of the layoffs were in the restaurant and the sales staff. Lavigne said the hotel is no longer actively soliciting new business as there's no guarantee it will be open for more than two to three months without an improvement package from the city.
Two people who had booked events at Hotel Arizona said they were trying to get their deposits back, but were yet unable to.
Erica Ramirez, who booked a quinceanera for her 15-year-old daughter for late next year, said she tried to get out of her $500 deposit after she heard the hotel manager had said the hotel could close imminently.
She said she was told the building would be open in some form or another -- whether that be a hotel or student housing -- and therefore she couldn't get out of her contract. Ramirez said some of her guests would need to stay at the hotel so that arrangement wouldn't work, adding she wouldn't want her 15-year-old daughter's party at the site of college housing.
Ramirez said she has looked into hiring a lawyer to get her out of the contract because she can't wait much longer for a venue for the quinceanera, which for some families is as much work as planning a wedding.
Ramirez said she needs a resolution to her situation now, but that negotiations with the hotel were at a standstill.
"We can't wait much longer," Ramirez said. "The other venues will be booked. ... If they want to stay in business this is not the way to do it."
Michelle Lousen, weekends director for the Rocky Mountain School of Photography, said her organization had a event planned at Hotel Arizona in February.
Lousen said she called the hotel and was told it was not closing and the layoffs were far less than the 30 cited in the newspaper. However, Lousen said the salesperson she had been dealing with about the weekend course had been laid off.
She also said she was told the hotel simply had seasonal layoffs and the restaurant closure was normal. The Coyote Cafe in the Hotel Arizona has been open for several years straight, if not for decades.
Lousen said she had no choice but to book another site for the Rocky Mountain School of Photography's weekend course because the organization couldn't "risk not having a venue with adequate staff and services." She said her organization is negotiating with the Holiday Inn & Suites on South Palo Verde Road near Irvington to hold the event there.
Lousen said the organization should have updated information on its website, www.rmsp.com, this week. She said she hopes Hotel Arizona will waive the group's cancellation fee.
Taxpayer improvements are part of the deal Lopez is pitching to Tucson. He wants the city to sell $17 million in bonds to upgrade his hotel into a 274-room Doubletree. In addition, a new 428-space parking garage needs to be built by the city, or Tucson needs to lease property to him so he can build the garage, he has said.
The city would then lease Hotel Arizona from Lopez for $1.6 million a year for 99 years, or a total of $158.4 million. After the parking garage was built, Lopez would demolish his parking garage at West Congress Street and North Granada Avenue and build an Embassy Suites Hotel there.
The annual lease payments would allow Lopez to pay down the $22 million in debt he has on the Hotel Arizona property without having to pay taxes on the sale of the property.
Contact reporter Rob O'Dell at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 573-4346.
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