If the City subsidized just one more downtown hotel, would we be world class? (updated)

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Several days ago, the Chronicle‘s Bradley Olson reported on Mayor White’s latest, greatest effort to make downtown world class:

Houston is poised to provide a $9.6 million tax subsidy for an Embassy Suites downtown, part of a raft of public-private hotel development that has sprung up since the completion of Discovery Green.

City Council today is expected to consider the deal, which would provide the hotel developer up to $1.4 million a year for seven years if it agrees to set aside at least 70 percent of the planned hotel’s 262 rooms for conventions and to participate in national advertising geared toward attracting more convention business to Houston.

Houston-based American Liberty Hospitality, which is developing the $34.5 million hotel, did not return a call seeking comment.

In fairness, perhaps the company is too busy resolving its “NOT IN GOOD STANDING” status with the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts to help a Chron scribe report on what should be the public’s business (thanks to Tom Bazan for that catch).

Mayor White’s press staff surely won’t like that a dissenting voice was included in the coverage:

Michael D. Oden, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin who has studied economic development subsidies, said an important question is why private investment will not suffice if there is such a strong convention market.

“What are the market failures here that justify a public subsidy?” he asked.

Houston’s power brokers prefer that such questions not be asked. Such scrutiny is not usually The Houston Way.

Thankfully, Councilmembers Clutterbuck and Holm temporarily derailed this proposal with a tag, but it comes back on this week’s agenda.

UPDATE (04-27-09): On the topic of The Houston Way, Olson has a brief in today’s slim Chronicle on Mayor White’s promotional efforts on behalf of Marvy Finger, based on documents requested by Texas Watchdog. Here’s hoping Texas Watchdog will have a more detailed followup on their site, since the Monday Chronicle is a thin effort indeed these days. [ADDENDUM: Texas Watchdog promises an update shortly. Strangely enough, they apparently have not yet seen the documents from THEIR public information request. It is not clear how the Chronicle got hold of them before the organization that actually requested them.]

UPDATE 2 (04-27-09): And there’s yet MORE on The Houston Way in today’s Chronicle, from (you guessed it)… Olson:

The partial closure of Rivercrest Drive, brought about through a 12-year campaign by a small community of wealthy, powerful Houstonians who wanted to shut off their street from cut-through traffic, has kicked up dust all the way from City Council to the Texas Legislature.

On one hand are people like Oliveira in Briargrove Park, who cannot understand why the city permitted an action they believe has sent far more cars into their neighborhood, without so much as a public hearing on the matter.

They see only the outsized influence of their neighbors in Rivercrest, who have donated tens of thousands of dollars to the political campaigns of City Council members and national politicians and make their living as trial lawyers, professional athletes and business executives.

On the other side are those neighbors in Rivercrest, who lived for years on a long, straight street with no curbs, sidewalks or stop signs that had turned into something of a racetrack for cars trying to avoid rush-hour traffic on Westheimer. They had tried for more than a decade to get some help from the city, only to continually bump up against the will of their neighbors and a bureaucratic morass at City Hall.

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