|The Palm Beach Post,
Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
July 24, 2012--After more than a decade of delays, Palm Beach County commissioners today can move forward with building a hotel alongside the county convention center in downtown West Palm Beach. Approval is critical to the underperforming convention center and could bring the county hundreds of jobs and millions of extra tourism dollars.
Administrators recommend contributing $27 million in county money toward the $100 million project. The 400-room Hilton hotel and an adjacent parking garage would be built and primarily financed by The Related Cos., which developed nearby CityPlace, but the county would own the building and the land.
Approval today would not be the last hurdle. Because of a 2005 court settlement, county officials would have to work out a deal with West Palm Beach, which says that if $32 million in privately owned (read: taxable) condos are not included, the whole hotel site must be privately owned and remain on the tax rolls. But that settlement can be renegotiated, and to advance this project the city, the county and Related must come quickly to agreement. If not, said one county official, "The project's dead."
The county has been trying since 2001 to build a major hotel by the convention center, which is losing roughly $1 million a year. But attempts to build over the past decade were thwarted by the economy, a debate over debt guarantees and the federal indictment of a county commissioner who accepted free hotel stays from a developer looking to build the hotel.
The latest plan has been criticized for requiring taxpayers to pay so much of the bill. Why, the argument goes, can't private developers finance the project themselves? County administrators say that because of the depressed economy and the fact that convention center hotels are riskier investments than regular hotels, public-private partnerships are the norm.
In this respect, the plan that county officials today will present to the commission makes sense. Years of delays have meant missing out on millions of dollars in tourism spending from big conventions and hotel bookings. Unless it gets a hotel, the convention center can't attract conventions.
for The Post Editorial Board
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