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Fri., Sept. 14, 2012

Editorial: Project has potential to transform downtown

If Karen and Walt Worthy pursue their plans for a 700-room hotel connected to the Spokane Convention Center, Spokane County voters will deserve some of the credit.

In April, they extended room and sales taxes that will raise $65 million to finance expansion of Convention Center meeting space, and seating at the Veterans Memorial Arena. The public clearly understands the value of a vibrant convention business, and believes the Public Facilities District has managed its money responsibly.

Ironically, it was Worthy himself who in 2004 questioned the district’s stewardship as it proceeded with construction of a new convention hall to the west of the existing facilities. He and other downtown businesses believed a south site would put conventioneers closer to restaurants, shopping and hotels, including The Davenport Hotel, which the Worthys had restored to its former splendor just two years before.

At the time, the district did not control the entire block between Main Avenue and Spokane Falls Boulevard, and Washington and Bernard streets, but subsequently bought out other property owners to consolidate ownership. When discussing the tax extensions last spring, supporters said the missing piece in a convention sales package was a headquarters hotel that would provide rooms and meeting spaces close enough to the convention hall to get bigger groups, or more smaller groups that could be accommodated simultaneously.

Re-enter the Worthys, who have not let a falling-out with the PFD stop them from buying the Metropolitan Financial Center, building a Davenport Tower to handle more guests in time for the 2007 U.S. Figure-Skating Championships, or taking over the Hotel Lusso.

A 700-room hotel would double the number of downtown rooms they own, and boost total downtown rooms by about 25 percent. That will take a lot of digesting, and a bigger convention pie for all downtown hotel and motel operators.

Much negotiating remains to be done as well; terms for the Worthys purchase or lease of the real estate, for example, and what arrangements will be made to provide at least 319 parking spaces for the public. Some contamination from earlier uses may remain. Construction is going to disrupt everything from Broadway shows to high school graduations for perhaps two years.

But getting a headquarter hotel open years before it was expected, with local ownership backed by a national or international brand, is an extraordinary opportunity. The Worthys are respected for the quality they have built into all their properties, hospitality and office. Construction will add hundreds of jobs during a downturn in building, and the hotel will generate new property, sales and other tax revenues.

We hope an agreement beneficial to the Worthys, the district and the community can be worked out within the next few months. A new hotel, coupled with the build-out of the Riverpoint Campus across Division Street, will further transform downtown Spokane.

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