Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Too Much at Stake for Quick Decision on Hotel

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Too Much at Stake for Quick Decision on Hotel

Article excerpt

Now is the time for the City Council to prove it's not simply

a rubber stamp for the Jacksonville Economic Development

Commission.

The JEDC is pushing hard to have the council, when it meets

tonight, approve a mega-deal for an Adam's Mark Hotel on the

downtown riverfront.

The taxpayers have a lot at stake here -- not the least of

which is the $21 million public investment they are being asked

to contribute.

Such an investment demands careful scrutiny, yet the JEDC --

through its executive director, Mike Weinstein -- is treating

this deal as if it were delicate mist that might evaporate if

exposed to the sunshine for too long.

For instance, the members of the Downtown Development Authority

were asked to vote on a half-inch thick development agreement

with St. Louis-based HBE Corp., the parent company of Adam's

Mark, after having it delivered to their homes late the night

before.

So much for careful study. They voted on it at noon the next

day.

The City Council was supposed to have an in-depth presentation

on the project at its last meeting. It didn't.

And, by the way, taking Adam's Mark officials around for

closed-door sessions with individual council members, which

Weinstein has been doing, doesn't count as public scrutiny.

Weinstein says the project has to be on the fast track or we

might lose it. The City Council should say whoa, we'll take our

chances.

There are just too many questions that require a thorough

public airing.

Chief among them are the 60 or so questions raised by City

Council auditor Bob Johnson, who has always been a stickler for

protecting the public's interest.

Particularly troubling is a Dun and Bradstreet financial report

on HBE that ranks the company low in several key categories.

Weinstein pooh-poohs the report and Johnson's conclusions that

HBE is a "relatively high-risk company. …

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