Mayor Tom Leppert's Campaign Strategy for the Convention Center Hotel? Blame It On Harlan Crow. Then Rinse and Repeat.
Mayor Tom Leppert and Anne Raymond of Crow Holdings and Citizens Against the Taxpayer-Owned Hotel made another campaign stop at the Bachman Recreation Center in front of approximately 40 people eager to hear the pros and cons of building a convention center hotel.
Sam Merten There's this "one individual" Leppert tossed under the bus. Then he threw it in reverse and ran him over a few times for good measure.
Although Leppert is always an active speaker who uses hand gestures to illustrate his points, he was in rare form Monday night. Leppert's arms were flying all over the place, and he even pulled out his wallet when talking about the $150 million he claims the city's general fund will lose if the hotel isn't built.
And the missive Raymond sent urging him to stop running a campaign of "negative personal attacks" apparently only served to fuel Leppert's desire to blame the pending referendum on Raymond's boss, Harlan Crow.
"Really the competition is one individual who owns a hotel and can take a very narrow interest," Leppert said.
"You have one person that is the opposition," Leppert said. "They are the one putting the money in. Anne works for that individual."
I'm confused. Who is the bad guy?
"It's one individual," Leppert said. "That one individual has put millions of dollars in this."
Sorry, Mr. Mayor. I just don't understand.
"One individual and their family have been fighting this for 25 years," Leppert said.
I think I'm getting closer to your way of thinking. I just wish you could use a word other than "individual." What else you got?
"We've got one financial interest that's fighting because it's not in their interest," Leppert said.
When he wasn't pussyfooting around naming Crow as the evildoer in this process, he was taking shots at Raymond.
"Unfortunately, if you listen to Anne, you walk away with the feeling that Dallas can't be successful," Leppert said.
And then, in classic Leppert style, he attempted to confuse the audience. When Raymond accurately described her organization's charter amendment as not prohibiting tax abatements, TIFs or other economic development tools, Leppert mentioned the referendum by Dallas Right to Vote.
"That would be fine if that was the only proposition that was on the ballot," Leppert said. "There's two propositions. The combination of them is what is bad public policy. The other one basically handcuffs the city of Dallas."
Raymond explained that Leppert was attempting to secure funding for the hotel in an attempt to make their votes irrelevant, which prompted audience members to periodically interrupt and address Leppert: "Why not let us vote?"
The mayor had no response.
Also resonating with the crowd was Raymond pointing out Dallas's poor hotel occupancy, with 45 percent of the rooms left vacant, prompting one audience member to ask why another hotel was needed with so many empty rooms.
Although she works for Crow Holdings, Raymond stressed that she has 25 years of experience in the hotel industry, buying and selling more than $5 billion in hotels in over that time period. She also touted her selection as a member of the convention center hotel task force by both Mayor Laura Miller and Leppert, noting that she was not privy to any of the inside negotiations as a member of Leppert's task force.
One of the questions asked by the audience involved the proposed bill that could allow 12 casino sites in Texas, to which Raymond replied, "If gambling opens up in downtown Dallas, we'll build a hotel."
Leppert said "Dallas would be a big loser" as the bill is currently written, claiming downtown Dallas would not be eligible for a casino.
Leppert also noted that the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau has booked 400,000 room nights that will be canceled if the hotel isn't built; the operator deal with Omni Hotels presented a $20 million benefit compared to the offer from Marriott; and the majority of the votes related to the hotel were 11-2 (which would have been a good time for Raymond to remind the audience of the 14-1 council support of the Trinity River toll road referendum).
"The only reason I'm doing what I'm doing is because I want Dallas to move forward," he said.
Raymond called the hotel an AIG (After I'm Gone) investment and asked Leppert to wait until May 9 to commit more than $500 million on the backs of the taxpayers, explaining that a yes vote is required to kill the project.
The charter amendment and additional pics from Monday night are below.
CHAPTER XI. THE BUDGET AND FINANCIAL PROCEDURE RELATING THERETO
SEC. 15. MUNICIPAL OWNERSHIP, FINANCING, CONSTRUCTION, OR OPERATION OF HOTEL OR OTHER LODGING FACILITY.
(a) The voters of the City of Dallas declare that direct or indirect participation by the city in the enterprise of owning, financing, constructing, or operating a hotel or other lodging facility would inappropriately divert valuable taxpayer dollars and other civic resources and attention from the provision of essential city services, which is the primary function of municipal government.
(b) Notwithstanding any other section of this Charter,
(i) no money or other property of the city may be used, directly or indirectly, or transferred to any third party, for the purpose of siting, financing, constructing, acquiring, leasing, or operating a hotel or other lodging facility, nor may the money, property, or credit of the city be lent for any such purpose;
(ii) the city may not create, authorize the creation of, sponsor, or authorize the issuance of bonds, notes, or other debt instruments by, any special-purpose governmental entity or any nonprofit corporation (including but not limited to a local government corporation or a public facility corporation) for the purpose of siting, financing, constructing, acquiring, leasing, or operating a hotel or other lodging facility; and
(iii) within fifteen days after the adoption of this section, the city council shall, in accordance with state law,
(A) assume for the city the powers and duties of any local government corporation theretofore created or authorized by the city, if the creation or authorization of such corporation would have been prohibited by this section had it been in effect at the time such corporation was created or authorized; and
(B) alter the structure, organization, programs, and activities of any public facility corporation theretofore sponsored by the city, to prohibit such corporation from siting, financing, constructing, acquiring, leasing, or operating a hotel or other lodging facility except as exempted by subsection (c) of this section.
(c) This section does not prohibit:
(i) the adoption of a tax increment financing district or tax abatement agreement in accordance with state law;
(ii) the siting, financing, constructing, acquiring, leasing, or operating of a hotel or other lodging facility located wholly within the boundaries of the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport;
(iii) a subsidy paid directly to the sponsor of a convention, meeting, or other event in consideration of the holding of the event in the city or the renting of hotel rooms in the city;
(iv) the sale or lease of city property to a bona fide third party for fair market value;
(v) the siting, financing, constructing, acquiring, leasing, or operating of a shelter, halfway house, jail, dormitory, or other facility not providing lodging to the general public;
(vi) the acquisition of a hotel or other lodging facility through foreclosure of a tax lien or other governmental lien, provided that the property is not thereafter used or transferred in violation of this section;
(vii) the approval through the city's land use regulatory process of a hotel or other lodging facility; or
(viii) the expenditure of city funds for lodging in connection with travel on official city business.
Sam Merten Leppert describes the "myopic" view of the opponents. Sam Merten