Friday, November 04, 2005

He landed on their hotel

The Ralph Buncher Co. has plans to build a 143-room hotel--apparently privately financed--in the Strip District, not far from the convention center, yet officials with the Pittsburgh Convention and Visitors Bureau are unhappy. Why? Because it interferes with their plans to throw public money at Forest City Enterprises to expand the Westin Convention Center Hotel. And of course, the Westin management isn't thrilled either, but that's understandable. You look pretty silly feeding at the public teat when a someone else builds a hotel all on his own dime.

For the last time (well, maybe not the last time), the nation's market for convention centers is saturated, and Pittsburgh's convention center is too big. A lack of hotel space has little if anything to do with its failure to bring in conventions and generate revenue. The region already has a high hotel vacancy rate which, as the Trib article notes, would be exacerbated by the expansion of the Westin.

Of course, if someone wants to risk their own money expanding the Westin then they should go right ahead. But the fact that the city needs to bribe someone to do it means that there probably won't be enough business to justify the investment. (Buncher may be anticipating a casino in the Strip District, according to the Trib, but it doesn't matter to me why they are building it, as long as they do it without handouts.) Which leads me to ponder a very good but very naive question from Buncher President Thomas Balestrieri:

"It seems to me that if the private sector builds enough 150-room hotels, it would satisfy the needs of the convention center," he said. "Why anybody would be unhappy about that, I don't know."

Because, Mr. Balestrieri, then they give up control. And that scares the people who run this town more than you can possibly imagine.

5 Comments:

Blogger Cope said...

It will be interesting to see how the project fares when it runs the gauntlet of city planning boards and commissions -- and perhaps the first test of an O'Connor appointed administration.

7:21 AM

 
Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

A good point.

8:23 AM

 
Blogger "O" said...

A few thoughts:

(1) How much did Balestrieri/Buncher contribute to the O'Connor campaign? How much does that compare to the contribution from Westin?

(2) Did Buncher get previously spurned by the Murphy administration and is he doing this to make them look bad? OK, worse.

(3) Is this project "real" or is it just publicity?

(4) What's the major difference between Buncher's plan (which apparently works without public money) and Westin's (which apparently doesn't)? I'm guessing that the land cost (Buncher owns the site already) is a significant portion of the difference as is, as you mentioned, the casino revenue.

(4) I'm pretty sure that They would be happy to give up control. Paperwork is a bitch and we are glad when we are rid of it. It's a real challenge to Westin and Them to justify the additional subsidy.

(5) Assuming that the Buncher project is "real" and will move forward, I would think they would just have to go through Zoning Board of Adjustments and Planning Commission. Unless of course they wanted public subsidy...

6:39 PM

 
Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

I'm certainly not dismissing the possibility of cynical motives on the part of Buncher. My contention remains the same--projects like this that can't get done without public subsidies shouldn't get done at all.

7:34 PM

 
Blogger geoff said...

Buncher has threatened to build this hotel before, and I think in the past it was pretty clear that they were looking for a payoff not to do it -- to sell the land to the city, possibly with a land swap sweetening an already high purchase price. It would not be the first time Buncher has tried (and succeeded in) this tactic; they are uncannily adept at standing in the way of the city's ill conceived big ticket projects. Forest City is bad enough. The subsidy Buncher will demand NOT to build is worse.

If they build a hotel on that land -- if they're even seriously considering that they might -- I'll eat my hat. I hope O'Connor says, Sure, go ahead, it's your money. Spend it.

In fact I hope he says that a lot.

10:52 AM

 

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