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EDITORIAL: Lucas' hotel plans emerge once again (The Virginian-Pilot)

The Virginian-PilotMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

June 07--State Sen. Louise Lucas says she's exploring a plan to build a hotel at Victory Village in Portsmouth.

This bit of news has drawn more than few winces -- and worse -- in recent days. But there's reason to hope the city can avoid a repeat of the long, ugly battle over her last attempt a few years ago.

Here's the reason, bluntly spelled out by Lucas for The Pilot's Gary A. Harki: "To hell with public financing. Absolutely not. I'm not looking to the city of Portsmouth for one brown penny. I don't plan on standing in front of the council for one thing. Nothing."

That's progress.

In 2007, Lucas asked the City Council for $13.5 million in tax breaks and cash to help fund a hotel and conference center. The proposal drew well-deserved criticism because of the sheer size of the subsidy and the propriety of a public official seeking tax dollars for a private venture.

Later, she scrapped that request, and she and a group of investors asked the council instead for its authorization to use more than $30 million in tax-exempt and taxable bonds available under federal and state programs.

The revision was certainly better than the original, but it still presented the same basic problem: Lucas, a public official, was seeking to tap into a source of public funding.

Beyond that concern, there were others -- including whether it would be wise for the council to subsidize, in any manner, a project that would compete with the already city-subsidized Renaissance Portsmouth Hotel and Conference Center. The city had yet to break even on the latter project, and a similar development seemed questionable amid then-emerging economic troubles.

When the council rejected the project, Lucas filed a $97.7 million lawsuit against the city, alleging that the council had unlawfully taken the Renaissance into account in its vote. She also said the opposition was racially motivated. The suit -- essentially filed against city taxpayers, i.e. her own constituents -- was later dropped.

Now the economy appears to be on the mend. An official with Marriott Hotel & Resorts recently told the city that the climate is good for such a project.

With Lucas pledging not to seek public financing in any form, one of the biggest obstacles has been removed.

Now a development at Victory Village can be assessed on its merits. That's how it should have been, from the very beginning.


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