|By Rudolph Bush, The Dallas Morning
NewsMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Sep. 16, 2008 - A group opposing the city's plan to finance construction of a $400 million convention center hotel plans to announce a petition drive Tuesday in hopes of calling an election to stop the project.
The group, known as Citizens Against the Taxpayer-Owned Hotel, is seeking a change to the city's charter to prohibit Dallas from financing, constructing or owning a hotel.
The group, which formed as a political action committee this month, is largely backed by Harlan Crow, owner of the Hilton Anatole and the city's staunchest opponent of a publicly financed convention center hotel.
Mayor Tom Leppert, who along with a majority of the City Council supports the hotel, said Monday that Mr. Crow has an obvious self-interest in stopping the project.
"It's a fact. Anybody can make a judgment as to what that means," he said.
Brooks Love, a spokesman for the hotel opponents, said Dallas voters, not the City Council, should decide whether the city goes forward with the massive and pricey project.
The petition drive is scheduled to kick off at the Warwick-Melrose Hotel at 3015 Oak Lawn Ave. at 11 a.m. today..
To succeed in calling an election, the group must gather 20,000 signatures within a 60-day period.
Mr. Leppert and other city officials have defended the hotel project as a necessary part of the city's development that comes at little risk to taxpayers.
Opponents, including council member Angela Hunt, have argued that the city shouldn't be involved in financing something they think would best be left to private developers.
Construction of the hotel is expected to cost about $400 million. The entire project, including the acquisition of more than 8 acres downtown, is estimated to require a bond issuance of around $560 million.
Money to pay those bonds back would come from revenue earned by the hotel complex.
Only if a $50 million reserve fund and several million dollars in upfront payments on the debt were exhausted would the city have to dip into its general fund, paid directly by taxpayers, to satisfy its debt.
City officials proposed having the city finance the project because public debt can be issued at a lower interest rate since it is considered a safer investment and is paid out tax-free.
Private developers declined to take on the project without an infusion of $124 million in city subsidy, largely to cover the financing, according to city officials.
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