The D.C. Council unanimously gave initial approval today to an agreement with developers to spend $272 million in public money to expedite the construction of a hotel and adjoining garage at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
The legislation will likely get final approval next month.
Though a few council members expressed concern about using taxpayer dollars in difficult economic times, all members apparently agreed to go through with the deal.
D.C. Council member Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large) told his colleagues that the $537 million, 1,167-room hotel will allow the city to be more competitive in drawing conventions and events. Since talk of spending more public dollars for a hotel began in recent weeks, some council members said the city was losing business to National Harbor resort in Prince George's County.
The city originally had a plan to give $187 million in public dollars to developers through tax increment financing. The city will add $25 million to that tally while the Washington Convention Center Authority will provide $47 million from cash reserves to the project. With interest and other costs, the public dollars add up to $272 million, said Brown, chairman of the Committee on Economic Development.
Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) stressed that the council should be clear that more tax dollars will be used than originally proposed for the Marriott Marquis hotel. "This is not a miracle deal," he said.
Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) said city officials also have to look at what other factors could be playing into the city's inability to draw more conventions. He said said other cities have fewer hotel rooms within close proximity to their convention centers but are winning events because of other amenities, such as better transportation.