|By Evan Belanger, The Decatur Daily,
Ala.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 12, 2008 - For the second time, Sweetwater developers have announced that hotel magnate John Q. Hammons will not be part of the 536-acre, mixed-use development proposed at Interstate 65 and Alabama 20.
Hammons, who was initially expected to build a large hotel and convention center at the site, backed out of the project in May.
But according to attorney Barney Lovelace, who represents Sweetwater development company Genesis U.S.A., the Missouri-based hotel developer was back in negotiations with Genesis as late as last Monday.
Due to illness, Lovelace said, the 89-year-old businessman was hospitalized last week, leaving his company unable to commit to the project in the required timeframe. Lovelace announced Monday that Genesis would pursue other hotel developers to build at the site.
"There will still be a hotel out there. It just won't be a John Q. Hammons hotel," he said.
He declined to comment on Hammons' specific health problems.
While Hammons' level of commitment prior to his hospitalization was not clear, his participation was apparently paramount to a development agreement passed last month by the Decatur City Council.
The agreement, which called for the city to borrow $14 million to fund incentives for the project, guaranteed the construction of a 250-room hotel and a 60,000-square-foot convention center.
But Lovelace said Monday that without Hammons' participation, Genesis could not guarantee a hotel of that scale and that the convention center could be reduced in size or delayed until a latter phase of development.
That means Genesis and city officials must start from scratch on a portion of the deal, renegotiating a new development contract under terms that are not definite.
"We're going to have to go back with the city and restructure the incentivse package," Lovelace said.
Lovelace said Genesis officials are currently negotiating with three other developers interested in building smaller hotels at the site -- possibly 150 rooms. He declined to name the companies, saying only that one of them was based in Alabama.
Other likely changes, Lovelace said, would include a reduction in the city's incentive package for Sweetwater.
While the original contract called for the city to pay $12 million for land and infrastructure at the site, Lovelace said, Genesis officials could drop its demand by as much as 75 percent to make up for the pending hotel and convention center changes.
Mayor Don Kyle, who will head up the city's side of the negotiations, said he would reserve judgment on the city's possible financial investment until Genesis officials provide more definite plans for a hotel.
"I saw a 'perhaps' early last week, but I haven't seen anything definite," he said. "We'll do our revenue projections from that and make our decisions then."
With Sweetwater's planned anchor store, Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, slated to break ground in early October, Lovelace said officials on both sides of the negotiations would be under serious time pressure if the store is to open on schedule next fall.
"We're really in a hurry," he said. "I'd like to see something go before the council next week or in the next couple of weeks."
While Monday's announcement nixes a contract between Genesis and the city, Lovelace said it would not impact a separate contract between Bass Pro and the city.
That agreement calls for the city to grant an estimated $36 million is sales-tax abatements to aid in constructing the 144,000-square-foot Bass Pro building.
With the original groundbreaking date for Bass Pro set for early June -- and later pushed back to September -- the Sweetwater project has been marred by delay since its unveiling in mid March.
Genesis' long-term plans for the property include residential development, office buildings and entertainment venues. Lovelace predicted fully developing the property would take eight to 10 years and $1.3 billion.
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