N.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
April 14, 2011--Apparently there's plenty of interest in building a hotel adjacent to the Wilmington Convention Center. The real question for city officials is whether three firms that have expressed an interest in taking on the project have the financial wherewithal to do the job.
After all, the history of the project does not inspire great confidence. Three times the city has put out requests for proposals -- the hotel originally was supposed to open at the same time as the convention center. Three times the promised hotel has not materialized after the developer backed out or the Wilmington City Council got tired of giving generous extensions for obtaining letters of credit, which would signal that the firm has the ability to follow through with the proposal.
Let us hope that the fourth attempt gets some traction.
The economic slump that persists despite declarations by economists that the recession ended two years ago has dampened the prospects for a hotel and has had an effect on the convention center business forecast.
A hotel is critical to attracting convention groups, which put a premium on the ability to hold most if not all events under the same roof. Some clever marketing and cooperation from area hotels has helped the center sign up a few conventions even without an attached hotel. But more would come if the hotel were there.
Three prospective developers, two with local ties and one from Virginia, have signaled their interest to build one of three hotel brands: Crowne Plaza, Sheraton Four Points, or Hampton Inn & Suites.
A committee will review the proposals and advise the city council. And the council should demand a thorough review of the developers' experience with this sort of project, their financial health and whether each has solid prospects for obtaining financing. Liens, lawsuits, judgments and other red flags also need to be checked to make sure that the council has the best information possible to make a selection. Make it clear that deadlines must be met.
Beyond which company can deliver, of course, is which project most closely marries with what city officials envision for the convention center hotel. With any luck, the council will be able to select one group that does both.
We don't need a fifth round of hotel proposals.
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Copyright (c) 2011, Star-News, Wilmington, N.C.
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