Former councilman says votes on Convention Center hotel, future spending limits are vital to city’s future success
On May 9, Dallas GLBT voters could make all the difference in our city’s future when the votes are cast on Propositions 1 and 2 in the Dallas municipal elections.
The vote on Propositions 1 and 2 will be close. But I’m confident when our community understands what’s at stake, they’ll join me in rejecting mudslinging and vote no on both measures. This is critical to keep our city moving forward.
Proposition 1: Would prevent the city from building and owning a convention center hotel.
Dallas must stay competitive in the convention business. When conventions come to town — especially city-wide conventions with 30,000 to 50,000 people — our hospitality industry wins.
We as individuals do as well, because the taxes visitors pay reduce the burden on Dallas homeowners.
Dallas used to be in the top five in the convention trade. But we’ve lost our competitive edge. In 1999, we had 19 city-wide conventions. In 2007, just five.
Why? No convention center hotel. We are the only city in the top 20 convention cities without a convention center hotel. It has become a deal breaker.
Of course, we’d all like the private sector to build the hotel. But the numbers don’t work.
Since 1992, virtually every convention center hotel has required public assistance. And while we keep debating that philosophical point, competitors have funded their hotels and won conventions that should be coming here.
So last year, by an 11-2 vote, the Dallas City Council approved a convention center hotel. Major business, community and political leaders, along with every major Chamber of Commerce including the North Texas GLBT Chamber support it.
Why? The deal is good for Dallas taxpayers:
• It will be operated by Omni Hotels, not the city.
• It will be funded by revenue bonds, paid for by the hotel’s guests, not Dallas
• Substantial reserves will help protect Dallas taxpayers.
• And, contrary to opposition claims, the hotel will not impact police or streets.
Indeed, the more taxes visitors pay, the more we have for city services.
Denver, Houston and Baltimore have used this model. They’ve bolstered their downtowns and hotel business.
Most Dallas hotels are on board as this will boost their business, too. A 30,000-head convention can only fit so many in the 1,000-room convention center hotel.
The GLBT community has a direct stake, too. We work in those hotels and restaurants in large numbers. Visitors shop in our stores. We plan their events and parties. Conventioneers enjoy our clubs.
Sadly, the Crow family, which owns the Hilton Anatole, opposes the hotel. For 25 years they have killed every attempt to build it.
Now they want to change our city’s constitution — just to protect their hotel.
They’ve spent more than $3 million on a massive campaign of misinformation and fear, and launched attacks calling the mayor arrogant and deceptive. Those ads got me off the bench.
Two years ago, I ran against Tom Leppert for mayor. It was a tough campaign. But I can tell you, he is honest, smart and my mayor. He’s been good to the GLBT community and for Dallas.
This win-at-all-cost campaign hurts our mayor, the city council and our city.
Opponents suggest the hotel will fail because Dallas doesn’t measure up. They’re wrong. Just look at the success of the GLBT travel outreach program sponsored by the Tavern Guild, Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau and North Texas GLBT Chamber.
GLBT travel writers invited over the last few years have found plenty to praise. Those glowing reviews have lifted Dallas to one of the top destinations for GLBT travelers. And conventions have their fair share of GLBT conventioneers, too.
But if voters reject the hotel, the size and number of conventions will keep shrinking. That means property owners will pay more of the tax bill.
We must protect our city’s future. So vote no on Proposition 1.
Proposition 2: Would prevent the city from providing funding in excess of $1 million in incentives for any project.
Prop 2 is payback by a controversial New York union, angry because the city wouldn’t automatically make it the union at the Convention Center Hotel.
This would essentially force us to vote on every incentive over $1 million for retail, hotel and condo projects. Imagine negotiating with developers to invest millions in Dallas and then say: Now we must wait until November or May for an election, and you’ll have to fund the campaign as well.
They’ll take their investment somewhere else.
This would crush economic development downtown and in southern and west Dallas. Historic preservation — a cause dear to the GLBT community — would also suffer. City incentives have been critical in finding new life for historic structures.
The vote will be very, very close. GLBT voters can tip the scale. Join me in getting off the bench.
Enough is enough! Vote no on Propositions 1 and 2.
Ed Oakley is a former Dallas City Council member and mayoral candidate, and a spokesman for the Enough is Enough campaign.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 1, 2009.
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