Revitalizing downtown hotels complex dominates Tuesday’s Council meeting

By Bill Sumrall
The Light

Alexandria officials approved ordinances Tuesday designed to revitalize the Hotel Bentley, Alexander Fulton and Riverfront Convention Center.

After the meeting, Mayor Jacques Roy expressed his pleasure with how matters turned out as well as “how much private contribution there has to be to trigger a minimal public contribution, and the effects will be tremendous to the area.”

Three ordinances considered for final adoption by the Alexandria City Council:
(1) authorize the mayor to enter into a contract on behalf of the city for the interim management of the Alexander Fulton Hotel and Convention Center and related properties with Hospitality Initiative Partnership Management LLC (HIP) or a related company;
(2) authorize a contract with 3north for professional architectural and engineering services related to the Downtown Hotels Initiative and related public works and improvements; and
(3) authorize an Intergovernmental Agreement with the Alexandria/Pineville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) related to the Downtown Hotels Initiative, to contract with the Bureau concerning reimbursements for City incurred expenses related to hotels and convention matters; studies; proposed improvements to public assets and infrastructure, including the Riverfront Center, the Alexander Fulton Hotel and Convention Center; and various proposals for a public plaza and Gateway District related to tourism and convention business and other proposals.

“This is a request to partner for financial aid, not to give it,” states a supplemental Administration response to this item in the agenda concerning the CVB.
“The contract with 3north will be to implement its plans for the overall initiative, as was agreed in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) of November 23, 2009,” the supplemental response states.

The MOU’s “term sheet” document defines 3north as “a cross-disciplinary design collaborative composed of architects, planners, landscape architects, environmental designers, preservationists, historians, interior designers and graphic designers whose office is located in Richmond, Virginia.”

“I think we’re also a little happy, and I would echo Mr. Lawson on this, that we’ve now built a process that we call ‘shop-able,’ ” the mayor said, referring to Council member Myron Lawson.

“In other words, if one group doesn’t go forward, we have it down so much that we can take this and put it all in one package and put it out again nationally, and I think we’ll get it picked up no matter what,” Roy said.

“So I think that provides the drive for this current group to finish the deal, and I expect that we’re going to hear something in the next couple of days,” Roy said.

During the legal committee session, Roy explained that “what we’ve put together, and again Mr. Lawson and I had extensive discussions, really allows folks to decide one way or another, and you now … have a ‘shop-able’ deal … that could go out to anyone at this point.”

“So, you’re in a better position as a City Council today on March 23, 2010, than you were when it was being operated by the group that was operating it, really not to the benefit of the city, in the fall for some degree of time,” Roy said.

“It’s a great opportunity for the city, both in existing and potential opportunities — it will allow us to achieve a vibrant hotel and convention complex area, it will create quality jobs, and build capacity for new ancillary and principal industry with private sector employees,” Roy said.

“That’s precisely what we need right now with the private sector being so sluggish in terms of sales tax revenues,” Roy said.

The mayor assured the Council that the money involved is capital funds, not operating funds.

Lawson sought to ensure in an amendment that nothing is triggered until the term sheet is signed by the proper partner with HIP.

The mayor assured the Council that the term sheet is among several triggers designed protect the city’s interests before any steps are taken.

“I think the protections are very strong in how this agreement has been formulated,” Roy said.

During public comment, Alexandria resident Gayle Underwood, who identified herself as living in Council member Chuck Fowler’s district, posed several questions.

“My main concern is, are the architects requesting exclusive rights to serve as developers and architects not only on these properties but on all properties associated with the downtown venture, and why wasn’t this included in the original bid, and is the fee 25 percent of $60 million?” Underwood asked.

The mayor responded that the answers to her questions are no. “They are not the exclusive architectural firm,” Roy said, nor do they get that percentage of $60 million. “We don’t do any projects at 25 percent that I know of,” Roy said.

Lawson said that he feels good about the term sheet trigger requirement as well as the mayor’s assurance that this not be an exclusive agreement.

“We have a lot of folks that have vested interests that live here” who should have an opportunity to participate, Lawson said.

Council member Harry Silver said that “if this thing becomes a reality, you have no idea what a tremendous change it’ll affect for the whole area … it’ll be a showplace for the entire South.”

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