D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) yesterday asked the Washington Convention Center Authority to halt a scheduled vote on recommendations for a new hotel site, delaying action for at least another two weeks.
Williams's request intensified a dispute between the mayor and a coalition comprising the head of the D.C. Council and some members of the convention center board as to where the city's largest hotel should be and how to pay for it.
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The board was scheduled to release its recommendations yesterday, which would have to be approved by the D.C. Council and the mayor. The board's vote was delayed until its next meeting in November, said Jeffrey L. Humber Jr., chairman of the convention center board.
The board's eight members include six people appointed by the mayor, as well as two city officials. Some board members, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they were frustrated by the last-minute delay, which Williams requested just before leaving today for an 11-day trip to China. Others said it was understandable given the number of development issues the city was dealing with, and they wanted to make sure proposals were thoroughly considered.
Council member Harold Brazil (D-At Large) said part of the problem is that the city has been preoccupied by efforts to win a baseball team. "[The city] can't focus on so many big items at once," he said. "You kind of lose your way. He [the mayor] wanted to concentrate on baseball, so to have another big issue [like the hotel] at the forefront right now, it's probably best to deal with one at a time."
The mayor's economic development office is also losing a key player. Eric W. Price, deputy mayor for economic development, and one of the biggest proponents of the mayor's plans to put a mix of offices, residential, retail and a library on the old convention center site, announced last week he is leaving for a job at a New York nonprofit group. Developers have warned his departure could affect the pace of some projects.
Brazil said he supports the mayor's hotel plan, but added that he wants to see the report acted on promptly. "There needs to be finality," he said. "We can't keep changing and changing and changing." The city has been debating the site of a new hotel for two years.
"We've got to set up a plan and go with it," he said.
Hotel supporters also note that a delay could be costly to the city. Rising interest rates could make financing more expensive.
The mayor said that his staff had reviewed the board's report but that he has not yet had the chance to read it. "I assured them that they will be able to release it at their next meeting," he said. "That will allow me to thoroughly review it. . . . We want to be able to effectively ensure that the convention center has all the information that they need . . . and I just believe that right now they need some additional information."
The mayor wants to use tax-exempt bonds -- and some of the savings to be gained if the city refinances the existing convention center -- to pay for the construction of a huge hotel at a site he has picked at Ninth Street and Massachusetts Avenue NW. The hotel would be next to the new $850 million convention center at Mount Vernon Square.
But his proposal is coming up against Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) and some of the eight members of the Washington Convention Center Authority, which runs the convention center. They want to build the $400 million hotel on the site of the old convention center, two blocks south, arguing it would save the city money because the city already owns the land.
Cropp requested that the proposals be analyzed by an independent consultant. Conventions Sports & Leisure of Minneapolis has been working on a $326,750 study for the board since June. She said she has not seen the report but added, "It is still my strong belief that the old convention center is a much more cost-effective approach." She said she has the support of some hotel owners and board members of the convention center authority and a "sizable majority of the council."
The mayor has chosen a team that includes hotel giant Marriott International Inc., New York-based developer Tishman Urban Development Corp. and local builder Kingdon Gould III, who owns most of the land at the site preferred by the mayor.
Staff writer Debbi Wilgoren contributed to this report.