Holiday Inn – a postmortem

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Upon some reflection this evening here are my thoughts on this doomed project.

Bottom line: I am disappointed, but integrity and fiscal responsibility will always be more important to me than any on project. I think the public will be excited to see some of the other projects being proposed in this area.

I suspect the site will not be quiet long with the clock ticking on the alley vacation.

So the Holiday Inn is now dead and I am left shaking my head over what could have been. A series of issues that could have been addressed early on, seemed to keep coming back and plaguing the project. I haven’t been able to say much about the project previously because we were in a quasi-judicial capacity. Now that I am no longer in that capacity I will say that I suspect the project would have passed the council with minor changes at most and a 7-0 vote. In the latest iteration the project was probably the nicest large non-Mayo project the city would have had in that area. The real death of this project came by way of the heavy public subsidies that they were asking for. The first time I saw the project, I thought the biggest potential objections had already been addressed.

There were a number of things that conspired to cause problems and for once I have to say that the city council was not one of them. In fact, Randy Staver, who I have certainly had some issues with this week, accepted my invitation and sat with the developer and neighbors in an attempt to work out some issues. Multiple times… And we did for the most part…

Here are some of the issues the project ran into:

  • A lack of planning (zoning) – The incentive development process, poor underlying zoning, and the continued inability to produce a 21st century zoning code that actually works in urban areas. No excuses for this. I have been asking for a zoning code refresh for 8 years, and continue to. We have a good 2nd street plan with no way to implement it. While we are updating the comprehensive plan, staff has talked the council out of acting on zoning until the plan is done. I feel that current zoning is so bad for both neighbors and developers that I wanted to override staff’s recommendation and do it any way, but I was on the losing end of that vote.
  • A lack of planning (infrastructure) – We don’t have a good plan for 2nd street Phase IV yet. Further staff still can’t answer the question of what the most efficient and cost effective tunnel system would look like in that area. It is really hard to design around infrastructure when you don’t know what it will be. It is also hard to justify public subsidies without a plan for public benefit.
  • Poor Communication – Staff really did little to engage vested parties, I personally felt left out of their loop and actually had to point out numerous errors in interpreting the 2nd street plan. It appeared to me that there was more of an attempt to contort to the development than make the development fit a vision. In fact, I was surprised to learn that the city administrator was willing to double TIF, because he never told the council.
  • High land acquisition costs – I think that the price the developer was paying for the land made it uneconomical, as such they were looking for a ton of public assistance which was hard to justify.
  • Lack of public benefit to justify high subsidies – There would be some benefit from having true public parking, perhaps some from ROW setbacks and streetscape, maybe some from a tunnel, but not enough to justify what they needed to make the project viable. I saw this and DMC also saw this. While the neighborhood had delivered a letter of support, they pulled it after seeing the size of the requested subsidies, with those types of public subsidies they felt like the public should get more.
  • The Holiday Inn brand – I don’t think it is fair to judge the quality of the hotel by the brand name, but the public was not excited about that brand, I suspect neither was Mayo. This might have been the nicest Holiday Inn in the country. The public certainly didn’t want any tax dollars to go into a “Holiday Inn.” I personally think you need to separate a brand reputation and the hotel, but I think that was out there.
  • Larry Brutger – I like Larry, but frankly many neighbors did not. In talking with Larry, I thought he was congenial and pragmatic. However much of his experience was in more suburban developments, this was a very urban development. To his credit he hired a tremendous architect out of the cities which was very capable. I think the issue was he got some terrible advice, rather than working through some issues, he was told to submit plans ASAP. This made many in the neighborhood furious, which was too bad since some issues were minor. The neighborhood fought for many things that were important to them like a neighborhood friendly 1st street and raised numerous issues at the planning level. Further because of the submittal, Larry was limited on changes he could do from that point on.
  • City staff perception by the neighborhood – With all the issues many neighbors came together to have a visioning event at Forager Brewing. Not only to talk about this project, but really the greater area. Perhaps a couple hundred people showed up, including a majority of the council and most DMC staff. However not a single person from city administration, county planning, or public works showed up at this well attended event.

From the start this project was asking for a ton from the community by way of incentive, variances, and subsidies. In the end it just didn’t look like they were going to get the subsidy then needed.

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