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Some Dallas City Officials Want the Proposed 1,200 Convention Center Hotel Structure
 to Be an "Iconic" Building; Cost Might Rise from $330,000 per Room to Around
 $380,000 a Room to Avoid a Boxy Looking Building

By Rudolph Bush, The Dallas Morning NewsMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Aug. 15, 2008 - Dallas' proposed convention center hotel would be grander in style and more expensive to build under a plan being floated by city officials who want to see the structure become an "iconic" building.

A City Council committee will hear this morning about plans to bring outside investment into the half-billion dollar project to help pay for architectural work that would create a curving, tower-style structure rather than the boxy hotel the city is budgeted to build.

Mayor Tom Leppert, a former construction company chief executive, said creating an iconic building probably would add 10 percent to 20 percent to the cost of the building.

The city has capped its investment at $400 million and would look to partner in some fashion with the building's developer to make up the difference in cost, Mr. Leppert said.

The 1,200-room hotel is expected to cost around $330,000 per room to build. That cost could rise to around $380,000 a room if it were built to iconic standards, the mayor said.

Mr. Leppert said he has not decided whether to support the plan but wants to see more details.

"All things being equal, I would love to see an iconic building, but we've got to do what makes sense. If you don't go iconic, you still have an attractive building," he said.

City staff members who are working on the hotel project will probably tell council members today that the enhanced architecture would be money well spent, particularly if it isn't drawn from city coffers.

"This is an opportunity to see the southwest quadrant of downtown in a new way," said Assistant City Manager A.C. Gonzalez, who is heading up the project

It won't come free, however.

City officials are considering several ways to provide developer Matthews Southwest, or an investor tied to the company, with some financial interest in the project.

How that interest is structured is complicated because the project will be funded by publicly issued bonds.

City officials, meanwhile, already have seen some renderings of what the hotel could look like.

The drawings, submitted by Matthews Southwest, have been kept close to the vest by city officials.

Asked what the hotel might look like, Mr. Gonzalez described a tower of "unusual shapes" with unique use of building materials to render architectural details.

Mr. Leppert described a kind of curving tower.

Such a building would be unusual in Dallas, a city not renowned for its architecture.

Asked what buildings he considered of iconic stature in Dallas, Mr. Leppert cited the 55-story Chase Tower on Ross Avenue. He said he also thought that buildings in the city's Arts District could achieve that status.

He noted that great cities around the world are identified by the architecture of their greatest buildings. Dallas, he said, should and will rise to that level.

The nascent plan for an iconic hotel drew criticism from council member Angela Hunt, a key opponent of the hotel project.

Ms. Hunt said the plan to add more costs to the project struck her "as a waste of money."

"If we can't get a beautiful, tasteful, iconic building for half a billion dollars, then the city of Dallas isn't capable of properly budgeting the project," she said.

The council's most ardent backer of the project, Ron Natinsky, sounded his support for enhancing the project.

"We know we can build the convention center hotel within budget, and it will be your typical convention center hotel. But if we can come up with something that will be identified with the city of Dallas, and if we can do that without spending any more of our money, why not do it?" he asked.

Mr. Natinsky chairs the city's Economic Development Committee and will oversee today's meeting on the hotel. It is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. at City Hall.


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