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Cityscrapes: One More Hotel

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A map from a 2010 Powerpoint presentation to the City detailing plans for HemisFair development

Just one more hotel, and the city will boom. That has long been the mantra of this city’s business and political leaders. With her decision to support a new hotel tower atop the Joske’s building, City Manager Sheryl Sculley has now joined the crowd, fully backed by newly reelected Mayor Julián Castro.

There was the Hyatt Regency hotel in 1981, enhanced with some $10 million in Federal aid dollars, with the promise that a direct connection between the River Walk and Alamo Plaza — the Paseo del Alamo — would boost the fortunes of Alamo Plaza and help revive downtown. Then there was another major Federal government grant for Rivercenter and the new Marriott Rivercenter hotel. That was supposed to transform downtown as a retail center by adding two new high-end department stores to the existing Joske’s/Dillard’s building.

Then in 1995 came a City and County tax abatement for the Adam’s Mark (now Crowne Plaza hotel), followed by yet another 10-year tax abatement deal for Hixon Properties’ Westin hotel. There were tax abatement deals for the Hyatt Hill Country and the Westin La Cantera as well.

For a decade, the City pursued what the late Carlos Guerra called the “Mother of All Hotel Giveaways” to get the 1,000-room convention center headquarters hotel, the hotel that was supposed to vault San Antonio to the top rank of convention destinations. When the promise of a tax abatement giveaway failed to lure any private hotel developer, the City ended up financing the Grand Hyatt itself, guaranteeing $208 million in bonds with citywide hotel tax revenues.

Let’s also not forget the “PGA Village” deal that led to the J. W. Marriott Hill Country resort hotel, the one Marty Wender, then chair of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, termed “a tremendous economic generator,” one that would “attract attention to San Antonio from around the country” and put us among the top ranks of golf destinations.

Each of those hotel deals ultimately happened, greased by a political process that seemed amenable to every promise from every developer, always accompanied by grand promises of jobs and economic riches to come. The count of hotel rooms in San Antonio has grown from 18,600 in 1987 to 27,500 in 2000, and then to 44,310 in 2012. So it seems appropriate, as the mayor and city manager endorse yet another hotel project, one that will tower high over Alamo Plaza, to ask what we’ve ended up getting for all those deals, all those subsidies, all those promises.

The constant big promise is that those new hotels downtown will boost the city’s convention prominence and generate a rebirth for our ailing core. That promise was most overt in the case made for the Grand Hyatt. The City’s consultant for the proposed hotel, HVS International, reported the number of hotel rooms filled (room nights) by conventions in 2001 was 712,189. They forecast that the addition of the Hyatt would boost the room nights produced by the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center by 150,000 additional room nights. So, how’d we do?

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