|By Ronnie Glassberg, The Charlotte Observer, N.C.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Aug. 27, 2004 --CONCORD, N.C. -- City leaders announced a new deal for a convention center Thursday that will save taxpayers $9.4 million over 20 years, but the public will give up control over the complex.
Hotel developer John Q. Hammons plans to privately build a 309-room Embassy Suites hotel and an attached 38,000-square-foot convention center on Speedway Boulevard.
Concord leaders view the $50 million complex as a way to lure more tourists into the city. The site is near Lowe's Motor Speedway and Concord Mills mall and next to the city-owned Rocky River Golf Club.
It is expected to bring up to 300 jobs.
Construction, which is projected to take a year and a half, could begin as early as November.
"This is a big step for us," said Concord Mayor Scott Padgett.
The deal still involves public investment. The city would give Hammons 4.7 acres of land valued, according to the city, at approximately $938,000, for his hotel. He would get to use another 2.2 acres for free for the convention center for 15 years. (After that, he'll pay 0.25 percent of his net hotel room receipts as lease.) A $1 million federal grant will help pay for parking for the hotel and convention center on approximately four acres of city-owned land. Hammons would be able to use that parking for free for a length of time that hasn't been defined, City Manager Brian Hiatt said.
That brings the public incentives to more than $2.7 million for the private complex.
A public hearing is scheduled for Sept. 9.
Under an earlier deal, the city would have owned the convention center and Hammons would have managed it.
But the city and county would have given up $144,000 in annual property tax payments if the convention center were a publicly owned facility. That deal also relied on $4 million in property tax incentives and $1.5 million in hotel-motel tax dollars.
Hiatt said the city would prefer to own the convention center. But Hammons decided that he wanted to keep the county out of the deal because county commissioners have been critical of the amount of public money involved, Hiatt said.
The commissioners appoint the Cabarrus County Tourism Authority board members, who distribute the hotel-motel tax money.
By giving up ownership of the convention center, it will make it more difficult for the city to push a future expansion, Hiatt said.
The city also had wanted joint marketing of the convention center, such as with the county-owned Cabarrus Arena and Events Center, but that won't happen, Hiatt said.
"We don't have any control over its use because he's putting all of his money into the building of it," Hiatt said.
Concord officials had originally pushed a deal that would have relied on $20 million in hotel-motel tax dollars over 25 years.
But the Cabarrus County commissioners, who needed to vote to raise the tax, balked at the price. Cabarrus County Manager John Day also pointed to other cities that had received better deals from Hammons.
"I'm glad that the city was able to pull that off," Day said. "It's very much like what we were hoping to achieve earlier."
City leaders have criticized the county for delaying the convention center. In a news release Thursday, they took a thinly veiled swipe: "Both parties (the city and Hammons) have been extremely frustrated with the constant delays at a time when new tax base and jobs are much needed in our area."
Yet U.S. Rep. Robin Hayes, a Concord Republican who helped secure the $1 million federal grant, recently credited Cabarrus County commissioner Coy Privette with helping bring the project's price down.
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