The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

February 19, 2013

Downtown hotel needed, but not one owned by city

The results weren’t quite unanimous, but the consensus was clear — and we agree.

An overwhelming 97 percent of readers believe Enid’s proposed downtown hotel should be a private enterprise venture. A paltry 3 percent thought the city should own it, according to our unscientific poll at EnidNews.com.

Last October, City Manager Eric Benson described a future downtown hotel as being “a deal where industry is assuming the liability.”

“They are the ones embracing all the challenges,” he said last fall. “All we’re doing is a minor incentive and sharing in the experience, the enhancement capability.”

On Feb. 5, city commissioners viewed a proposed development plan for a new downtown hotel. The 131-room hotel would be opened under the Hilton Garden Inn brand.

The hotel could be built on the east side of Independence and incorporate the Kress Building facade, co-located with Convention Hall and Enid Events Center. The project’s price tag is about $14 million, plus the cost of developing parking.

Two hotel ownership options are on the table:

• The city could own the hotel as a not-for-profit venture, finance its construction with bonds and benefit from the hotel revenue after the bonds mature.

• The hotel would be a private enterprise venture in which LodgeWell LLC, of Overland Park, Kan., would build, finance and operate the hotel.

LodgeWell would manage and operate the hotel in both scenarios.

City Manager Eric Benson plans to bring the proposal back before commissioners on Thursday to consider a master development agreement with LodgeWell and attendant issues.

Should the city of Enid own a downtown hotel?

Commenting on our Facebook page, Commissioner Tammy Wilson said she didn’t know if anyone is leaning toward city ownership.

“It’s simply an option that if we’re being responsible needs to be looked at,” Wilson wrote. “There are pros and cons to both.”

Commissioner-elect David Vanhooser also commented.

“Owning hotels is not a role of city government,” Vanhooser wrote. “It should not be owned by (the) city, but fully supported by the city, as (with) any other private business located in our city.”

We believe such a hotel would be a big plus for downtown development, but city ownership is a bad idea. The city’s core services are sewer, streets, public safety and water.

The hotel industry is a risky business that could make a profit, but it’s not worth the gamble. It also would put city government in an awkward situation of competing with private industry.

City commissioners should approve the hotel development, but not city ownership.

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