Friday, July 26, 2013
If you thought the Walt Worthy’s initial plan to build a 15-story hotel sounded a little over ambitious, Worthy appears to agree with you. In a letter last month to City Council President Ben Stuckart, he says he determined last year “that the cost to build a large convention hotel was too high for us to feel comfortable moving forward.”
But instead of just eliminating the hotel completely, Worthy, in his words, “value-engineered” the project, slashing two floors from the plan. Yet it would still have about 700 guest rooms, 900 car parking spaces, and 70,000 square feet of meeting space, he writes.
Yet, he also wanted to discuss a number of incentives the City of Spokane could give Worthy for building his hotel. Those include a 10-year tax abatement, at-cost permitting and plan-check fees, and concessions regarding development fees like building permits, impact fees, and parking meter revenue.
“We are still qualifying the overall cost of the project and need your help with these items,” Worthy wrote in his letter. “We are at a point where we have decided that within the next 20 days we will either move forward or abandon this project altogether.” That was 26 days ago. Other incentives for Worthy might be a possibility as well.
“[Worthy] mentioned in the last meeting he had with [the city planning department], that he was close to making his numbers work with some assistance. But then he said, ‘I didn’t calculate the construction sales tax in there,’” City Planning Director Scott Chesney says. “Because it’s in our control, [a construction sales tax abatement] may be the last piece we can put on the table.”
After all, such a project could bring a substantial amount of economic development if it succeeds.
It’s not unusual for cities or counties to offer big incentives to undertake a massive project. (Kendall Yards is just one example.) But granting specific requests, worth vast quantities of tax dollars, to an already-successful developer can be dicey. Stuckart says he wants to make sure general rules are made, instead of just targeting one project by one developer.
But when it comes to Worthy’s hotel, timing is of the essence.
“The goal is to get back to Mr. Worthy as soon as possible,” Stuckart said at a study session yesterday. “He wanted to pour dirt next month.”
Stuckart also wanted to ensure that, if the city is handing out incentives, it attaches strings involving livable wages and the use of local contractors. By next week, he says, he hopes the city will have a policy that will establish which incentives to give projects like Worthy’s proposed hotel.
In this city, Worthy’s name carries a lot of weight: “If it was just about anybody else I’d have concerns, but because we’re having somebody with a track record with this community who has a history of doing these kinds of things, it’s a whole different discussion in my mind,” Councilman Jon Snyder said at the meeting.