Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Get the Story Straight

Time changes many things. Some things that were thought to be true when Coody and the Cowbirds rushed Fayetteville's approval of the questionable $3.7 million TIF subsidy for the Nock and Alexander hotel project are no longer true. The TIF District was created in January 2005, bonds were issued in April 2006, and the magnificent Renaissance Marriott was to open in September 2007. Didn't happen.

Straight answers are scarce as to why we have a huge downtown scar known as the East Square Dig Hole in the Ground. First it was that the Marriott chain was demanding changes in the plans, and that excuse worked for a while. Now we are being told that the delay is because they are engaged in "value engineering" over such things as the price of bricks. Right. Then we should believe that story and discount the rumors that the developers don't have a firm commitment for construction financing.

I hope that the grand hotel is eventually built, that the city gets its money back, and that the owners make a profit. However, here's where my confidence begins to wane. In two newspaper articles today, we are given two contradictory stories by the developers, so the "time" factor cannot explain the disparities.

In the
Northwest Arkansas Times article, John Nock said he didn’t know if they would build the hotel or the planned 350-space parking deck first. He also said they would love to be done by fall 2009, but whether that happens depends on their value engineering process. Nock says the city extension until December 2010 doesn’t mean they are waiting until then to start the project. “That certainly is longer than we anticipate,” he said. “Could it go to that? I guess, legally, it could. But our goal is not to wait until 2010 to do the project.”

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article has a different story from Richard Alexander. He says the big parking deck would be next on the construction schedule and before the hotel’s tower. He also is quite clear about the start date on hotel construction when he says, “We got an extension to 2010 to pull [apply for ] all the project permits,[and] we’re going to use every bit of that time.”

How to explain these two obviously contradictory stories? Nock and Alexander are reported as saying different things about material facts. Reporters
Marsha Melnichak and Stacey Roberts give us two very different versions of those facts. Someone could be fibbing, or maybe one of the reporters got it dead wrong. Whichever, I regret that we cannot trust the word of businessmen nor the reports in the local newspapers.

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