Cantlon: How to improve the city’s hotel deal process
The new hotel deal the city just made (see the Aug. 24 paper) has some good points but had some bad process. Here are some suggestions for improving it.
What the processed revealed is that City Manager Michael Lamar has ideas for the city and when an opportunity to implement one comes up, it might happen suddenly. That’s OK as long as there is a good city manager with good ideas. What happens in the future if that’s not the case?
In talking with Lamar, he described how as part of the agreement the hotel owners will help improve the raw city park property next to it. This in turn might dovetail with what John Flicker, president of Prescott College, told me the school’s hope is. They and APS are trying to have the APS utility yard near this hotel site become property of Prescott College. Since the college maintains its property with a campus-like feel and keeps it open to the public, the two projects would create a publicly accessible, pedestrian-friendly swath of land running from Grove Street to Montezuma. From there an existing path runs under Montezuma connecting to Granite Creek Park. All together it makes a very nice addition to the quality of life and appeal of Prescott.
While the desirability of the hotel can be questioned, the intention to improve city appeal is great. The process, though, needs a lot of work. Here’s a starting point on some rules for improvement.
The rationale for keeping it quiet until it was almost done was that it’s hard for multiple parties to have negotiations about give-and-take if it’s all done in public, particularly if some have their financing up in the air. You can make a case either way on that, particularly as applied to things the city is deciding for citizens, but starting from there:
• The city should keep a log of when discussions begin on this kind of thing, and what are the steps along the way. That should be released when the issue becomes public. (Actually a Freedom of Information request should result in the same thing, but better if the city does it automatically.)
• From the moment that city discussions are private, or in executive sessions, it should be documented why it needs to be. Not some vague, “because it’s hard to negotiate” but specifically which players would have had what problems if it had been at least partially public.
• If possible, make the general issue public even while some details remain private, and if not possible, have the reasons why in that same record.
• I realize buyers might have a limited time that some financing option is available and need a quick vote from council, but four days is just not enough. Credit council member Phil Goode for voting to go slower.
For this hotel deal they should now have an after-the-fact open forum for questions and answers. Even if some details still need to be private, state everything that can be.
This project was revealed as if it was viewed as all good and who could object? Maybe so. Maybe with a chance, the public would champion these ideas. Or maybe some would object. Why not ask?
A closing thought. Over the years when there have been suggestions that the city try to steer development in desirable directions it was often met with objections that it should be entirely left to the market. Councilmen Blair and Lamerson are big proponents of this libertarian approach. In this case the city has chosen not to seek maximum return or market competition but go with a plan intended to create a more desirable city. Blair voted for it. Lamerson was not present but hasn’t voiced any public objection. With this vote, the city has established that desirability can be the goal.
A late addition just as this piece is submitted: Mr. Lamar says the plan for the hotel has changed and a height waiver will not be needed.
Tom Cantlon is a local business owner and writer and can be reached at comments at tomcantlon.com.