It has been an incredible honor to work on the Downtown Hotels Initiative, on a daily basis, for the last year.
To be sure, we’re not quite there yet. There aren’t any shovels in the ground, and the ink isn’t dry. But we’ve made significant strides in ensuring that one of Alexandria’s most recognizable historical landmarks, the Hotel Bentley, is, once again, restored to commerce and that, for the first time ever, the City-owned assets- the Alexander Fulton Hotel and the Alexandria Riverfront Center- are finally joined in unified management.
I’ve been writing about the Hotel Bentley since I created this blog, over four years ago. It’s an exceptionally beautiful building with an incredible history.
Throughout the last several months, I have worked with the principals of Hospitality Initiatives Partnership- the group that won the City’s Request for Proposals- every single day. They are talented, accomplished, and highly-skilled professionals who believe in the potential of this project and the future of our community; it’s refreshing.
This project will result in the creation and retention of nearly 250 jobs. It will contribute over $500 million in economic impact throughout the next decade. And, in my opinion, it has the potential to completely reinvent the landscape of urban Alexandria.
Some folks may suggest that, because of the City’s involvement, this whole project is an exercise in socialism; somehow, the public is wholly subsidizing this deal.
Let me be clear: I know this particular deal better than any other blogger or any journalist, and I know, without any doubt, that this project is being completely driven by the private-sector. Completely.
Anyone who suggests otherwise doesn’t know any better or simply has their own personal, political agenda. Period.
We, the taxpaying citizens of Alexandria, own a hotel and a convention center, which is directly connected to another privately-owned hotel. The privately-owned hotel closed more than five years ago. The publicly-owned hotel’s former management group went bankrupt and, in the process, lost their affiliation with Holiday Inn. And as a result, our publicly-owned Riverfront Center has struggled. There’s no doubt about it.
We could have chosen to give up, to allow those assets to bleed out their value, and to augment disinvestment. To do so, in my opinion, would be malfeasance and a complete dereliction of duty to the public, who, throughout the last two decades, has invested tens of millions of dollars to construct and manage these assets.
Instead, we elected to look to the private-sector for a solution.
I expect that at least a couple of people may say, “But Lamar, you lying liar, the newspaper says you guys agreed to build a town square and a parking garage. It says you all want to make renovations to the Riverfront Center.”
True, but there’s one problem: The vast majority of the public’s expenditure will be on permanent and publicly-owned infrastructure enhancements, all of which were previously planned and on the books well before this initiative was launched. The parking garage, which is years away, requires an objective certification of need and was first pitched to the City years ago. Same thing with enhancements at the Riverfront Center and the town square. None of these are ideas unique to this project, but rolling them out in concert with a massive private-sector investment better ensures for their sustainability.
For every dollar the City spends on enhancing its own infrastructure (excluding the parking garage, which is a contingency that is years away), the private-sector will spend over $6. Six to one.
The Riverfront Center has been operating for more than a decade, and in that time, both the Bentley and the Fulton have undergone numerous ownership/management transitions. At no time has the management of all three assets ever been directly tied to one another. Never. Alexandrians should really think about what this means.
Again, I am proud of what this project means to the City of Alexandria. I, personally, have faith in the people of H.I.P., but I also believe that, regardless, as a result of this process, we are now the beneficiaries of at least a million dollars worth of schematic design, planning, and due diligence, at no cost to the taxpayers. To me, that is incredible, and it adds immediate value.
I welcome any questions that are posted on this blog.
I believe this is an amazing opportunity for our community. This represents a victory for Alexandria.
Update: Today’s Town Talk editorial was incredibly misleading. The editorial “board” relied on baseline numbers provided by the term sheet in order to approximate the entire private-sector investment. That’s just poor journalism, plain and simple. The truth is: Nothing has been “scaled back;” their entire thesis relies on an inaccurate assumption.