|By Brad Talbutt, The Idaho Statesman,
BoiseMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Oct. 22, 2008 - The proposed Boise convention center has suffered another setback.
Missouri hotel developer John Q. Hammons, 89, has delayed any decisions about the project because of illness, leaving local partners in the lurch.
Hammons hasn't backed out of the deal, according to his local partner in the proposed center, but the center will at least be delayed again -- and may require a new hotel partner.
For years, local business leaders have pushed for a larger convention center on a chunk of Downtown land between Front and Myrtle streets to attract larger events and regional conferences. The site has remained empty as bond measures and private development deals have fallen apart.
The center will continue to move forward with or without Hammons, said Stephenson Youngerman, chairman of the Greater Boise Auditorium District, which would lease the center using room-tax revenue.
"I really think we'll be looking for a new partner," Youngerman told the Idaho Statesman. "But we have achieved a great deal, including a design that's acceptable to all the parties."
Not all hotel operators are enthusiastic about the project, which would add more hotel rooms to a glutted Treasure Valley inventory.
"Boise used to be one of our best markets, but now -- because of the oversupply of rooms, and (because) fuel prices have cut travel by car and air, and with big companies like Albertsons leaving the area -- it's one of our worst," said Scott Ableman, chief financial officer of Ameritel Inns in Boise.
Hammons was hospitalized in August for an undisclosed illness and pulled out of a deal to build a hotel in Alabama, the Decatur Daily of Decatur, Ala., reported.
Hammons and Oppenheimer Development Corp. of Boise teamed up last year with the plan to build a convention center and 250-room hotel where the Connector empties into Downtown Boise.
Jack Coonce, vice president of Oppenheimer Development Corp., said Hammons has not withdrawn. Asked if Oppenheimer was looking for potential replacements, he said, "We are looking at everything, but right now we are spending most of our time working on a financing package."
"This will slow the project down, for sure," said Patrick Rice, manager of the auditorium district, which manages the Boise Center on The Grove near the convention-center site. "John Q. Hammons is a person, not a corporation, and he is the decision maker. He runs the company, and he controls the destiny of each project."
Rice said demand for convention space has outstripped the facilities at The Grove. He said several Idaho groups have taken their conventions out of state, including the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association, which held its annual meeting in Salt Lake City.
Rice acknowledges that decreased demand and a 20 percent increase in local room supply have created a poor lodging market. He said it will take Boise a couple of years to grow out of it. But he said there is immediate demand for more convention space, and hoteliers are losing business to states that have it.
Hammons Hotels and Resorts did not return calls Tuesday.
Brad Talbutt: 672-6737
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