Friday, May 17, 2013
The Cost of Downtown Hotels | Casey's Last Word
Mayor Julian Castro’s “Decade of Downtown” appears to be about making San Antonio better for San Antonians, not for the tourism industry.
Due largely to public investments ranging from the River Walk to the massive Convention Center, San Antonio already attracts more visitors than any other Texas city.
On his web site, Castro doesn’t tout the number of hotels being built under his watch.
He boasts of efforts that “have spurred plans for the construction of more than 2,400 housing units in the center city by 2014.”
Yet it is controversies over new hotels that dominated the front page this week.
One regards the proposed hotel over the old Joske’s building with a 26-story tower looming over the Alamo.
A major impact would be to increase the percentage of visitors who exclaim, “It’s so tiny!” from the current 96 percent up to 98 percent.
The other controversy, possibly even more important, involves the redevelopment of HemisFair Park.
The master plan is not aimed at visitors.
It returns part of the land to what it was before HemisFair – a neighborhood.
It also provides for retail and work space and for a variety of parks.
State Rep. Mike Villareal carried a bill in the Legislature at the request of the city-appointed HemisFair Park Area Redevelopment Corp.
The corporation wanted to release the HemisFair redevelopment process from a law that requires that any removal of parkland must be approved by voters.
The HemisFair plan calls for some areas now designated as parks to be used for other purposes, while other parks would be created from land not now designated.
The redevelopment team, reasonably, doesn’t want to have to seek voter approval on a piecemeal basis through several elections.
Villareal put into the bill two provisions.
One was that the total park acreage had to increase.
The other was that no hotels would be a part of the redevelopment.
Andres Andujar, CEO of the nonprofit, argued that a “boutique hotel” could fit elegantly into a residential street.
It would provide both revenue for other park needs and people on the street at night, which is good for any urban neighborhood.
Rather than fight the powerful hotel lobby, Villareal agreed to allow a hotel, but limited it to 400,000 square feet.
But over in the other house, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte inserted language that would include in that figure only rooms, hallways adjacent to rooms, and lobbies.
Not included would be meeting rooms, ballrooms, restaurants and parking.
The “boutique hotel” could now become a convention hotel – the fifth within two blocks of HemisFair’s massive convention center.
The change was, according to the Express-News, engineered by David Zachry, CEO of the powerful Zachry Corp.
As of now, the bill is still in play.
The byzantine rules of the Legislature mean no bill is buried until the politicians go home.
But those rules also make it easier to kill a bill than to pass one.
If the efforts by Zachry and the politicians who are supporting his interests lead to the death of the bill, it could be at considerable cost.
The credibility of Andujar and his board has been put into jeopardy.
I found Andujar very persuasive on the “boutique hotel,” as did leaders of the San Antonio Conservation Society.
But if he and his board have to go to the voters for approval of transforming HemisFair Park, they face an uphill battle.
Having remained silent regarding the shenanigans at the Legislature, they appear complicit.
How will they then convince us that the huge investment isn’t just another boon for San Antonio’s booming tourism industry?