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Tue, Sept. 17

Editorial: Downtown Prescott hotel project vote needed more transparency

Prescott Mayor Pro Tem Billie Orr, center, City Clerk Maureen Scott, right, and other city officials listen as WSH Hospitality, LLC, developers explain their plans for a Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Prescott during the Prescott City Council meeting Tuesday, Aug. 28, and included an artist’s rendering of how the new hotel will tie in with the historic railroad trestle that is located nearby. (Cindy Barks/Courier file)

Prescott Mayor Pro Tem Billie Orr, center, City Clerk Maureen Scott, right, and other city officials listen as WSH Hospitality, LLC, developers explain their plans for a Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Prescott during the Prescott City Council meeting Tuesday, Aug. 28, and included an artist’s rendering of how the new hotel will tie in with the historic railroad trestle that is located nearby. (Cindy Barks/Courier file)

An Aug. 28 vote of 5-1 by the Prescott City Council continues to raise questions and concerns three weeks later. At the center of the storm is a 50-year, city-land lease for a Hilton Garden Inn hotel in downtown Prescott.

At the meeting about a dozen members of the public spoke, not in outright opposition to the project but asking why the city appeared to be rushing the issue. At issue for most of them: The fact that the community knew little or nothing about the deal before the City Council meeting agenda was released the week before the meeting.

City officials, calling it “a landmark deal,” said the lease was advertised in public notices earlier that month.

A lease of $15,000 per year with an option to buy after five years, the development agreement spans 25 pages concerning a two-acre parcel of city-owned land at the corner of Sheldon and Montezuma streets for a new six-story hotel.

It appears to be a complex agreement that does seem to have been pushed through rather quickly. The line between “public property being sold” and an “exclusive option to purchase” is very thin.

Oftentimes, residents feel forced to stand on the sidelines and say, “Well, if it was all done legally, I guess we do not have a choice or a voice.”

And while it might be true that this was all legal, there is something to be said for the city going beyond doing what’s merely “legal” and stepping into the realm of doing “what’s more right,” as far as transparency and honoring the public’s right to know — especially if it involves property that technically belongs to “the people.”

We certainly will see. City officials say two items – a rezoning before the Planning and Zoning Commission and a special use permit to allow for the 70-foot height – would be going back to the council at a future meeting.

And, if either of those items were to be voted down, City Attorney Jon Paladini said, “The development agreement would be canceled.”

Also, a complaint filed with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, by former Judge Ralph Hess, may muddy the waters too.

In the end, we believe a 95-room Hilton Garden Inn downtown would be good for Prescott’s economy – such as the estimated $165,000 in annual tax revenues – and would prove to be a good idea.

However, the project and decision seems rushed in order to try and avoid any organized effort against it – all likely in the name of profits.

City councilors, in today’s political climate, you must do better.

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