City should not hire consultant

Published 9:07 am Saturday, March 14, 2009

By Staff
Robert J. Martin Jr. is a semi-retired labor lawyer. His wife, Judy, represented the Washington Garden Club on the Citizens for Revitalization. They were active in the most-recent City Council elections, associated with the group that wanted riverfront parks.
The Citizens for Revitalization reviewed the two previous downtown improvement plans (Renaissance, 1996, and Dickson, 2005) to ascertain what unimplemented recommendations were still relevant to the city.
The meetings were open to interested persons, and all in attendance were allowed to vote. The discussions quickly divided into those who believed that a hotel on city-owned riverfront was paramount and those who thought it in the best interest of the city to leave the present city-owned riverfront as public space.
The lack of consensus about locating a hotel on city-owned riverfront property led a participant from the Committee of 100 to propose that a consultant be retained to study the potential location of a riverfront hotel.
When a vote was taken, new attendees were present and voted with those in favor of hiring the consultant. The revitalization committee reported to the council on Monday that it had achieved 90 percent agreement on the relevant portions in the previous plans that should be implemented.
It also recommended the city hire a consultant to decide what to do with three city-owned parcels proposed for a riverfront hotel during the revitalization-committee meetings.
The City Council quickly approved the work of the committee. The council set aside an hour for discussion of the consultant costs with the committee on March 23. This time is during budget discussions, and it can be assumed the council will consider placing the consultant’s cost in the new budget.
The revitalization committee’s purpose was to avoid the need for a new study by consolidating the two previous studies. The recommendation of a new study limited to three specific areas of riverfront is beyond the scope of the committee’s purpose. It also presupposes the city will allow riverfront property to be transferred to private entities on which to build a hotel.
In times when the city is concerned about money to keep the city fully staffed and increases in costs of utilities, expenditures for another study for a hotel project that probably will not come to fruition should not be expended.
Common sense would tell us that if a downtown hotel could not be developed in Washington in the past (with a money incentive from the state), the present economic downturn will not allow it to happen now, either.
The last City Council election had the use of the riverfront as its core issue. It is the responsibility of the council to take hold of the riverfront issue. To delegate this issue to an unstructured committee, then to a consultant, does not meet its commitment.
Providing parks for enjoyment of the riverside is a proper function of government. Building hotels is not. The city should get out of the business of providing land and financing for riverside development. The land should be dedicated to public use.
The city should not hire another outside consultant to ascertain what city-owned property should be used to build a riverside hotel. There is no consensus that riverside land owned by the city should be given over to private business.
There is no entity seeking property in downtown in order to build a hotel. More importantly, these are not the economic times to be spending money on the economic proposals of a few people, some of whom live outside the city limits, and consequently pay no city taxes. The money, if available, should be used for improvements on which the committee agreed.