Chumming the Snark Tank: Citizens Against the Taxpayer-Owned Hotel

In the comments of this morning’s Leading Off post, someone asked when we were going to talk about the push by the Harlan Crow-backed Citizens Against the Taxpayer-Owned Hotel to gather signatures in order to call an election to halt the Convention Center hotel project. I suppose the time has come.

You can read a few different takes here, here, and here.

I’m not going to completely take a side just yet, but I will give you some talking points.

  • Harlan Crow might be right. But I think hiding behind the CATOH’s “Safer Streets Not Hotel Suites” slogan is disingenuous to the extreme. I don’t recall “safer streets” being on his original agenda, and I don’t think he or any of the hotel owners on his side care. At least not in this fight.
  • Before you twist the knife in my gut, I think the slogan is genius and pretty much right on.
  • Apparently, every major issue that comes before council is going to end in a referendum. So: why don’t some of the people leading the outcry run for city council? Kind of cut out the middleman.
  • If this project is a success, I think it depends more on the ancillary development. And I think Jack Matthews has a proven track record in that regard.
  • Will this save downtown?
  • With the city’s focus scattering, and large-scale developments giving us all sorts of different versions of downtown, does downtown actually need to be saved?


Get a weekly recap in your inbox every Sunday of our best stories from the week plus a primer for the days ahead.

Find It

Search our directories for...









View All

View All


34 responses to “Chumming the Snark Tank: Citizens Against the Taxpayer-Owned Hotel”

  1. I thought referendum was the proper way to amend the city charter?

    Granted, it’s not a big difference in effect, but it is in process when you talk about what’s actually being put to referendum. And it’s a good idea considering how bad an idea a city-owned hotel is.

    So I’m not seeing a problem.

  2. jamesn says:

    I think the thing that bothers me the most about the Hotel project is how we’re all being disingenuously told that it’s a worthwhile investment which is critical to the success of downtown.

    If it’s so worthwhile and critical then why isn’t going to take nearly $600M in public bonds to get built? And why does it have to be owned by taxpayers? It’s clear that private developers, Jack Matthews included, aren’t willing to build this without free government money to do it.

  3. Zac Crain says:

    Trey: My comment about the referendum wasn’t meant as an attack on the grounds for this one. I think it’s probably worthwhile. What I meant was more along the lines of: at some point, people need to get off the sidelines, stop griping about the council, and start changing it, if that’s where their heart lies.

    jamesn: That’s a good question. But I think the money was there for the taking rather than the asking. I think every developer would rather spend someone else’s money, if that’s what’s being offered, and as far as I can tell, that was the case. Not the best negotiating strategy on the city’s part.

  4. wes mantooth says:

    If this hotel is such a great idea, why isn’t the private sector rushing in to do the deal without the promise of free money from the bond issue?

  5. Dallasite says:

    Even worse, Wes, why isn’t the private sector rushing in to do the deal when the city offered a ton of free money?

    If it’s so bad that even with a large amount of city funding the numbers still don’t make sense to people who are in the hotel business, then it must be a perfect opportunity for the Dallas City Council.

    I wonder which Council-member’s brother in law will get the contract to build it.

  6. amandacobra says:

    I guess it’s just hard for me how to see how a hotel will save downtown. I mean, technically the hotel will be filled with convention goers, business travelers and Super Bowl attendees at any given time. And obviously they will need to eat and drink somewhere close by. But in terms of the rest of the population of the city, how would that draw people back into downtown?

    I guess if the streets were safer to protect the convention attendees, people would feel more comfortable about living downtown. But the trade off is who would want to live downtown and hang around an endless parade of dental equipment sales reps? It would be like trying to entice the citizens of Orlando to move into a neighborhood built amidst the Disney resorts or something. I just don’t see how temporary visitors will substantially increase residential and lifestyle development.

  7. Mark says:

    Dallas Investment: $600 million. Developer Investment: $0.

    I think many of us have a problem with this because it isn’t a private-public partnership. The City has ALL the risk. That would suggest it makes no sense to the private sector.

    If people are honest, the Dallas downtown area does need a “soul” (as Harlan suggested) or some type of visionary plan to make it more desirable. Crow and others probably would invest in a comprehensive plan to make downtown a place people really want to visit or live.

    The city of Dallas is full of great ideas that could be put into a compelling “vision” for investment. Maybe it would result in a 50/50 public-private partnership that could be leveraged into $1 billion (or more) investment. The money and plan could make a significant difference. Add this billion to the Trinity River investment, and the current downtown housing efforts – it becomes a big deal. At this point, maybe private enterprise would want to contribute to a convention center hotel.

    Somebody needs to lead an effort like this. A visionary willing to produce a comprehensive plan for renewal. Our elected leader (Leppert) has put all our eggs in one basket. There is nothing magical about a giant new hotel downtown – it will still be the same place.

    Crow has essentially made a cart-before-the-horse argument, suggesting make Dallas more desirable (for residents and visitors), BEFORE building the CC Hotel. If he didn’t have competing interests (Anatole), I think his argument would be accepted as rather obvious common sense.

    Mathews Southwest does have some interesting ideas, but after getting 100% financing with a guaranteed profit ($15 million – no matter what happens) for the CC Hotel, what will they expect for additional developments?

    This 100% public financing may be setting a bad precedent for ALL future development potential in areas of the city that need it most.

    If it isn’t good enough for private investment, there must be a problem.

  8. wes mantooth says:

    And the hotel doesn’t address the problem with the lack of urban density. Why should we invest in another project that doesn’t link VP and the Arts Plaza? Once we have Woodell Rogers decked & parked, we could have a linkage that flows from Arts to VP and the Trinity Parks and could promote some critical mass. But this hotel isn’t anywhere near that corridor. So what is the strongest argument in favor of pumping more money into that albatross of a convention center?

    And excellent point, Dallasite.

  9. ll says:

    A high end hotel is currently being made from an historic building right across from the cows. I suggest we christen it the Convention Center Hotel and move on.

    Or we put in a moving, covered sidewalk to that hotel with the ball on top — whatever it is called– all of about a block from the convention center — rename it “Convention Center Hotel” and call it a done deal.

  10. Zac Crain says:

    Mark: I think pretty much everything you said is solid. Only quibble–and this is only because I reviewed his plan and have seen it reported in various iterations elsewhere–for the additional developments planned by MSW, he and investors are planning on putting anywhere from $100 to $300 million in. Now, I’m sure some public money or subsidy will come in, in terms of infrastructure, so yeah, still not a great deal on the city’s part.

    But again, yes, you are right. A comprehensive plan, and someone willing to make that plan a reality and not just another sheaf of paper in a drawer, is needed.

  11. Tom says:

    Great discussion here. And no-name calling.
    I think our city’s leaders need to decide what they want downtown to be, or more specifically, what they want the southern end of downtown to be.
    Yes, they have a giant convention center that isn’t anchored by a giant hotel. But they also have redevelopment of former office space into residences and “parks,” city government buildings, a soon-to-be-demolished arena, a rail station (with possible secondary rail line) and places that offer assistance to the homeless and working poor.
    The south end of downtown Dallas cannot be all of those things, but it can be one or two. In a visit to Orlando, I stayed in a hotel that was across the street from the convention center. There were several large hotels on the street, with various restaurants, shops and bars, none of which catered to the local residents or the Disney crowd.
    I think Dallas needs a convention center hotel to continue building on that portion of downtown. But I don’t think it should be taxpayer-backed. Wouldn’t an increase in convention business provide incentive for private investment in one or more attached hotels?
    I know there’s be some examination from the DMN of similar convention center hotels in Austin and Houston, but it would be interesting to see what places like Orlando and Las Vegas (which has several large hotels off the strip near its convention center) have done.

  12. wes mantooth says:

    As a former proponent of “strong mayor,” I’m glad now that it failed, given Leppart’s views on this project.

    And because things are getting a little too serious around here, I propose that once this hotel gets ramrodded through despite objections, it be named the DeVille hotel. Then we’ll have our own CC DeVille. This city needs another loud, obnoxious failure. It could feature the Talk Dirty To Me Lounge, which would be perfect for convention-goers looking for a hook up.

  13. Daniel says:

    This city needs another loud, obnoxious failure.

    You rang?

  14. Bethany says:

    Josh Howard’s not busy, Wes.

  15. wes mantooth says:

    It seems like a really false comparison to lump Dallas versus Orlando and Vegas as convention cities. The draw of Orlando and Vegas as convention sites has nothing to do with a hotel being attached to a convention center.

  16. Tom says:

    @wes: I’m not saying Dallas can be on par with Vegas or Orlando in terms of convention business. I just wonder if taxpayer money was ever used for anything besides the convention centers themselves.

  17. Barbedwire says:

    I heard there gonna put a horse track down there too.

  18. Barbedwire says:

    I am tellin yeah 3 years ago i was told horse track

  19. Barbedwire says:

    right next to the train tracks and trinity..clippity cloppity

  20. Mark C. says:

    Zac: If Mathews is willing to put $100-$300 million into that area, then we should hold up the $600 million hotel until he contractually commits to investing. We get something for our money. Unfortunately, promises aren’t enough – look at Victory Park. They promised 6,000 units of housing to get public (tif) financing for their Master Plan, but they’ve only built 600 units. Without that mass of housing (not just luxury) VP will not be a neighborhood and therefore will not survive.

    Dallas needs to find a band leader to pull everyone (and their ideas) together for a cohesive plan. Is Wick too busy?

    The chamber slogan “Dallas: Think Big. Live Large.” doesn’t mean, big, large hotel.

    Big Plan = Big City.

  21. Zac Crain says:

    Mark C.: I’ll concede that point.

  22. Highway 6 says:

    Here’s a question that I’d like answered: How many conventions wanted to come to Dallas, but didn’t because of the absence of a convention center hotel?

  23. GMOM says:

    All Hat = No Cattle

  24. amandacobra says:

    Sorry for the slight threadjack but where is the Gawker Stalker [email protected] link? Jessica Simpson is across the street right now at House of Blues. Signing her new album (I think, maybe it was the tab) and presumably telling anyone who will listen how Green Bay better watch out. Crowd not so big. I’m a lazy iJournalist and have no cell pics to prove this because my order was hot, fresh and ready to go.

  25. Matt says:

    I’m all for a referendum for any issue that the council tries to push through without public input. Particularly with their new tactic of silencing any naysayers on the council.

  26. Bethany says:

    I saw Grizzly Adams at the Racetrack on Plano Parkway and Central. He was buying Skoal, a bag of Funyuns, an Evian and a fruit bowl.

  27. amandacobra says:

    You just wait. Right outside my office window is Lew Sterret. The first sign of a full-scale prison riot and you will have the best gosh darn citizen journalism my 1.2 megapixel cell camera can muster.

  28. Daniel says:

    Hey, that’s not Grizzly Adams, that’s my wife!

  29. Don in Austin says:

    Nope, sorry. I’m in Austin. (supposed resemblance..whatever). I’m younger, though.

  30. DR says:

    talk to me about building a hotel when Calatrava’s bridges are complete, when the Trinity River Project and tollroad are even 50% complete, when the Woodall Rogers park is complete, when you decide what in hell is going to be done with that #$%&hole Reunion Arena, when I can send my kid to DISD schools even though i pay $75,000 annually in property taxes on all of my properties. Catch my drift.

  31. GB says:

    TO: Vote NO! Campaign:

    Vote No! Thank you for setting a wonderful example of the caliber of people which constitute your organization. It says a lot about your group. At 11:45am this Saturday morning our home was called by a lady promoting your cause. I quickly reminded her of the rudeness of that intrusion. We were waiting on an urgent international call at the time. Her response was very revealing.

    She very quickly informed me that since people harass her at her home with these kinds of intrusive and annoying phone calls, it was “her right as an American citizen” to do it to other unsuspecting people, in return. When she heard me verify the name of her “cause” as “Vote No”… she quickly hung up on me. What a fitting representative of your organization, I suppose.

    That tells us all we need to know, actually. I was previously not involved or concerned with this issue (sorry). However, this arrogant, loud and very disrespectful person has changed that. I will see what I can do to find whoever is your “opponent” in this matter and do everything I can to not only support that side, but recruit others to it as well.

    We do not recall having received a phone that abusive and arrogant, in many, many years. Keep up the good work. It should serve you well.


  32. GB says:

    TO: Vote NO! Campaign (again)
    ATTN: Ms. Laura Reed Martin,

    At approximately 6:52pm this evening, Monday, I have again been unwillingly solicited by your organization in my home. Twice within 24 hours… when will you stop? Not being well today, I was finally able to simply lie down in the quiet of my home, get some rest and some badly needed sleep. Not only did your organization call, awaken and disturb me, as soon as I tried to calmly explain my problem with receiving these obnoxious and invasive calls… I was again hung up on, just as before. (My original complaint is above.) And this time it was yet another, different woman calling me. Someone apparently did an excellent job of correcting your little internal problem, didn’t they? I suppose now everyone there is following your first caller’s example.

    What is wrong with you people? And to answer your question, “No.”, I will not provide you with my phone number so you can “track down” the problem staffer. That will not stop your harassment of others, will it? That will not stop the abusive disposition of the kind of people who are apparently behind your effort, will it? No wonder the people of Dallas are up in arms at your group’s motives and behaviors. Look at the way you conduct yourselves.

    Additionally, you should not need my number in order to “track down” the abusive person who called us. If your organization had people of integrity working for it such a call would never have occurred to begin with. If your organization had people of integrity working for it, such a caller would have simply come forward without you having to investigate internally in order to discover them.

    I have an idea. Why don’t your caller’s begin their phone solicitation call by giving us their name and home phone numbers so we can wait until they get home to spend time with their families or try sleeping between swing shifts… and then we can call them?

    Your organization’s behavior is appalling.