|By Anna M. Tinsley, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Apr. 30, 2004 - FORT WORTH, Texas -- A $90 million, 600-room hotel would be built across from the Fort Worth Convention Center under a deal being negotiated that would include $25 million or more in tax rebates and other public incentives.
Developer Omni Hotels of Irving would pay the construction costs if the city agreed to return millions of dollars in hotel, sales and property taxes, several sources told the Star-Telegram.
The city would build a multimillion-dollar parking garage with nearly 1,000 spaces for hotel and convention center traffic and would waive fees for construction and other permits, sources said.
The deal calls for the hotel and garage to be built on city land where two parking lots stand immediately west of the convention center.
Omni would hold a long-term lease on the site and has asked for an option to buy the land for $1 million after 12 years, according to a confidential Omni proposal obtained by the Star-Telegram.
Councilwoman Wendy Davis, who as chairwoman of the City Council's economic development committee is a key player in the negotiations, declined to discuss the details of the plan Thursday.
"There is not a single general-fund dollar at risk," she said. "The deal has been structured so that it pays for itself.
"It's like using money that but for this partnership, wouldn't exist," she said. "I am very pleased with the structure of the deal that we have come to."
Mayor Mike Moncrief agreed.
"The risk would be with the private developer -- not the city," he said in a written statement. "This is a performance-based project.
Incentives offered by the city will be based on the performance of the hotel."
Omni officials also declined to comment on the deal but said they look forward to continuing negotiations.
"We're excited about working with the city of Fort Worth to make this a special project," said Scott Johnson, Omni's vice president of acquisitions and development.
"I think we've presented a proposal to the city that brings an enormous amount of private investment ... and will result in the first-class convention center hotel that the city has wanted and needed for some time now."
Sources familiar with the deal did not want to be identified for fear of hampering sensitive negotiations. But they said negotiators are continuing to hammer out the fine points of the proposal.
The City Council is expected to be briefed on the plan in private Tuesday and could vote in the next month on a final deal.
If the plan is approved, construction could start in spring 2005 and the hotel's doors could open by October 2006, according to the confidential proposal.
The Omni plan, submitted to the city in August, calls for a luxury hotel with 48,000 square feet of meeting space adjacent to the convention center.
The hotel would reflect the Texas theme of the convention center and would have a tower of brick and limestone.
"The tower's blend of materials and architectural detailing will establish the building as a respectful, timeless and yet modern addition for all of Fort Worth," according to the proposal.
The plan calls for several forms of public funding, although sources said the original proposal is changing as negotiations proceed.
Omni's original proposal asked the city to:
The proposal drew faint praise Thursday from a key critic of a publicly funded convention center hotel.
"I'm delighted the city is moving forward," said Steve Hollern, a Fort Worth accountant and former chairman of the Tarrant County Republican Party. "We need this."
Hollern served on a blue-ribbon committee that studied the hotel issue after a 2002 petition drive would have forced a proposal for a publicly funded hotel to a vote.
"I objected to the city owning and operating the hotel," he said.
"But this sounds like the city is going to pay for a substantial portion of it but won't own it."
The city last considered building a hotel with a private developer in 2001, when officials appeared ready to negotiate a deal with Atlanta-based Portman Holdings.
City leaders changed directions and were poised to approve a publicly funded hotel in 2002. After the petition drive, they went back to developers and asked for new proposals.
This week, the council's economic development committee recommended pursuing a final agreement with Omni for the privately owned hotel.
"I feel like I will be able to stand up in front of our citizenry and very proudly ask for their support on it," Davis said. "They told us they didn't want the city to be in the hotel business, and we found a deal that would let us move forward without that."
-----To see more of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.dfw.com
(c) 2004, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.