SIOUX CITY | A developer's plans to build a $20 million Courtyard by Marriott hotel downtown next to the Sioux City Convention Center received the City Council's stamp of approval Monday.
On a 4-1 vote, the City Council approved development, management and parking rental agreements for the hotel project, with Mayor Bob Scott casting the lone dissenting vote.
Scott said he believes the subsidy the Convention Center receives each year far outweighs its benefits.
"I'm going to vote no and then hope this (hotel) is abundantly successful," he said.
The decision followed more than an hour of discussion among council members and about a half-dozen members of the public, who brought a combination of support, questions and suggestions for the project.
Much of the discussion surrounded how the hotel -- to be built on land currently used for convention parking and by those attending movies at the Promenade Cinema across the street -- would affect people's parking options.
Under the agreements passed Monday, the city will construct a new 140-space parking deck behind the hotel, of which the bottom level would be only accessible to hotel guests and the top level would be open to the public at regular parking rates.
"The one complaint I have from elderly people is, 'I'm not going to movies downtown once this is built,'" Scott said. "We (older people) don't walk down five flights of steps to go to movies. ... It's a death-knell to that area."
Scott said the city needs to consciously make the other area ramps, which cater more to the streets west of that area, more accessible to the Convention Center and Promenade Cinema area. He suggested adding an elevator.
Councilman Alex Watters agreed that making the city's other nearby ramps more accessible to the area is needed.
"I want to make sure we're making it as attractive as possible for people to utilize both ramps," he said.
Driven by parking concerns, some residents suggested other locations for the project. Resident Dick Salem said he wanted to see a potential relocation that would keep parking free in the area and allow for future expansion of the Convention Center.
"If you could use the money and the money for the ramps, which we don't need, to bring in a national franchise group like Kinseth to remodel the Howard Johnson, ... you don't have to build a new ramp, you don't have to build a connection to the skywalk, you've saved the parking, and everybody is happy," Salem said.
City manager Bob Padmore said a previous nationwide search a couple years ago found no developers willing to renovate the Howard Johnson hotel.
"We were told it would need to be in excess of $20 million to go into that," he said.
In a statement Monday, the Taxpayers Research Council, a local watchdog group that has opposed the city's plans for the hotel since early on in the process, said that it was disappointed by the city's decision but hopes it considers Scott's parking concerns.
"Moving forward, we hope the Council takes the parking concerns raised by Mayor Scott and several other citizens including another elevator in the Virginia Street ramp to allow for a more accessible route to the theater," said the statement, written by executive director Taylor Goodvin.
Monday's vote will set in motion an official closing on the land, which economic development director Marty Dougherty said the city hopes to have in place by Aug. 1. The construction process, anticipated to take more than a year, could begin yet in 2017.
Developer Bruce Kinseth told the council he believes the hotel and the company's management of the Convention Center will result in a lower city subsidy and higher revenues for area businesses.
"Eighty-five percent of hotel patrons go out to eat every night," he said. "I guarantee people in hotels like to go out to dinner, they spend money on gas -- they do all sorts of stuff. They might even go down to the casino."
The proposed hotel would be connected to the venue via a "pre-function space." The city will also, under current plans, renovate one of the Convention Center's galleries into a ballroom. The city will partially pay for its portion of the project using future sales and hotel taxes from the state.
The new hotel is a vital portion of Sioux City's application for $14 million in future hotel and sales taxes from the Iowa Economic Development Authority's Reinvestment District program. The city will begin collecting the state's portion of hotel and sales taxes from new construction within the district for a 20-year period once the hotel is completed.
The district also includes a proposed equestrian center at the former site of Sioux City's John Morrell plant and Ho-Chunk Inc.'s commercial and residential holdings along Virginia Street.