Fact Check: Convention Center Hotel Backers’ Press Release Fails

Here’s the press release the Build the Hotel committee put out today that downplays the 60,000 signatures that the movement against the hotel gathered and turned into the City Secretary’s office.

Let’s break it down.

DALLAS (Oct. 9, 2008) — The “Build The Hotel” committee today called the methods that opponents used to gather signature on petitions “manipulative, misleading and over the top.” Hotel supporters also expressed deep concern with reports that citizens felt cornered by overly aggressive hired petitioners who were getting paid for every signature they gathered.

OK, it states the committee’s opinion and concerns. Fine. However, they suggest that paying workers to gather signatures is somehow untrustworthy, which is just not the case, since it’s SOP for most signature gathering and other political efforts.

“On separate occasions, both my daughter and I were approached by petitioners who were extremely aggressive. My daughter felt so uncomfortable after she repeatedly told him no, that she finally provided him false information just to escape the pressure he put on her,” said Sophia Dowl. “When I confronted the pushy petitioner who was after my signature, he finally admitted that he was sorry that he’d provided me inaccurate information, that he was working off a script and he was ‘just being paid to do this’.”

Sophia Dowl is owner of Alpha Business Images. I’ve left messages at her office but haven’t heard back yet.

However, all it took was a little surfing to discover something about Alpha Business Images. Guess who got paid to design Mayor Tom Leppert’s website? That’s right — Alpha Business Images. Look at the bottom of the web page on that link.

Not acceptable.

It’s believed that the petitioners receive anywhere from $15 to $20 per signature.

Here’s where the serious problem begins. Not a single source, named or anonymous, makes this claim. “It’s believed” is the wording. Believed by whom? When you use passive voice, it’s to deflect blame. “Mistakes were made” and so on.

This is the most serious and yet unsourced allegation in the entire release. It doesn’t pass the smell test. I invite the hotel supporters to provide information to the contrary. Otherwise, I call shenanigans.

One citizen reported that the petitioners are “talking off a script filled with inflammatory, misleading statements designed to illicit (sic) worry and concerns” and couldn’t answer any questions about the project. In fact, one petitioner flat out lied, stating that “the convention center hotel is the reason Dallas ISD had to lay off all those teachers.”

I don’t think the pro-hotel people have much in the way of moral high ground to talk about misleading people. As Mike Hashimoto showed so clearly.

As for talking off a script, that’s what volunteers and paid campaign workers do. Nothing nefarious there.

And “illicit?” Come on, people. (Yes, I’m being petty, but that’s just bush league.)

Dallas resident Mike Walker was approached at the Uptown Festival a few weeks ago, and a signature gatherer told him the Convention Center Hotel is the reason DISD is laying off teachers.

“She said it’s just horrible they’re laying off teachers and trying to build that hotel,” said Walker. “It was such a bold lie and people were eating it up.”

OK, that’s one named source making an allegation. Give them the benefit of the doubt. I couldn’t find anything immediately on him connecting him to the city, the DCVB, or the hotel effort. And, let’s be honest, I’m sure the anti-hotel movement people had their share of goobers among volunteers and paid staff who said stupid things.

In addition, the hotel opponents have conducted a phone survey whose wording is confusing and misleading. Casandra Matej, who is senior vice president of sales and services for the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau and very close to the project, received one of those calls.

“It’s my job to know the facts about the convention center hotel,” said Matej. “By the time, I got off the call with this phone solicitor, this person had me completely confused. They’re misrepresenting the facts, and it’s frustrating that people are going to be misled by inaccurate, inflammatory information.”

Ms. Matej is an employee of the organization pushing for the $550 million taxpayer-owned hotel. Her motives are suspect, just as Ms. Dowl’s, given their financial connection to the hotel backers.

Also, it’s hard to take seriously her claim a single phone call left her “completely confused.” Seriously?

Finally, it’s awfully suspicious when multiple sources keep using the exact same buzzwords — “inflammatory” and “misleading” and so on. Who uses the word “inflammatory” that casually?

Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, who is spearheading the Build The Hotel effort, is adamant that Dallas residents are given accurate information about the project.

Yeah, well, as I said.

“The Dallas Convention Center hotel is a $1 billion asset, an economic engine that currently generates millions every year to help to relieve the burden on our taxpayers,” said Mayor Leppert. “A new convention center hotel will allow us to compete for big, national conventions and maximize our convention center investment.”

Philip Jones said in spring 2008 that we’d go from 14 national conventions a year to 25 with a city-owned hotel. That’s an increase from 42 room nights a year (assuming the rounded up estimate of three room-nights a year per convention, per guest) to 75 a year.

How many days in a year again?

He’s also surprised with the opponents’ sour attitude toward the city’s vibrancy and its ability to attract visitors.

“It’s pretty hard to believe and disappointing that the other side has such a pessimistic attitude about Dallas,” said Mayor Leppert. “The reality is that Dallas is the #1 visitor destination in Texas. And our city has all kinds of momentum – from our world-class arts district, to our booming downtown, to our economy, which is one of the strongest and most stable in the nation.”

Yeah, and that’s without a convention center hotel owned by the taxpayers.

And then, “Booming downtown?” Office occupancy in the CBD is less than 80 percent. The one grocery store in downtown is on life support paid by the city. It’s still largely a ghost town after 5 p.m. The Woodall Rogers deck park is, for all intents and purposes, on hold. What’s booming, exactly?

Mayor Leppert adds that Dallas is a can-do city that has found great success through public-private partnerships downtown. He points to examples such as American Airlines Center, Victory Park and the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts.

Except in none of those other examples of public-private partnership did the city pony up 100 percent of the money while getting no real stake from the developer. And none of the examples are of developments that already exist in abundance in Dallas, i.e. hotels.

“The very best way to keep the tax burden on Dallas homeowners from increasing is to find new revenue streams, like tax revenues from convention visitors,* (sic) adds Dallas City Councilmember Ron Natinsky, chairman of the Council’s Economic Development Committee.

Building a $550 million hotel in a market with the second to worst hotel occupancy rate in the country (only Detroit is worse) and then making taxpayers responsible for the cost out of the general fund if the hotel underperforms is not, in fact, the “best way” to keep the tax burden on Dallas homeowners from increasing.

Phillip Jones, president/CEO of the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, reported that the DCVB has seen a major upswing in interest and bookings of conventions and meetings since the Dallas City Council approved plans for the hotel in June. He says that meeting planners have been carefully monitoring the progress in Dallas on the hotel, and have responded very positively. The DCVB finished its 2007-08 year with record breaking success, booking more than 1 million room nights including 15 citywides – a 21 percent increase over last year and the highest number of audited room nights ever booked by the Dallas CVB. For the fourth straight year, Dallas is No. 1 in the state of Texas for bookings.

All without a taxpayer owned hotel. So I’m not seeing the burning need, or the need to rush this project through before a proper referendum can be held.

Jones says that since Council approval in June, the DCVB has finalized seven citywide hotel commitments representing more than 195,000 room nights and valued at more than $200 million in economic impact and is in negotiation with seven more citywides that could result in more than 200,000 room nights and an additional $200 million for our city. Groups such as CEDIA ($153 million in economic impact; 105, 300 room nights) and Texas Library Association ($14 million, 9,750 room nights) are among those contingent on a convention center hotel

OK, we can’t take this at face value. Especially not the ones “in negotiation.”

This paragraph is an example of trying to pass correlation as causation. If those seven conventions the city has booked were directly because the hotel was scheduled, then there’s no doubt Jones would be saying exactly that. He doesn’t.

Instead, the release carefully uses the phrase, “Jones says that since Council approval in June, the DCVB has finalized seven citywide hotel commitments…”

Since the last rain, I’ve clipped my toenails. Just because one happened after the other doesn’t mean one caused the other.

“This momentum is due in large part to the interest in the hotel,” said Jones, “and I don’t think that, in this economic climate, we want to jeopardize $400 million in economic impact which will result in additional jobs and assist the city in funding fire, police and other services. This is not ‘build it to see if they will come’, but a ‘build it and they WILL come’.”

Again, trying to slide from correlation to causation.

“On the contrary, there are 80 groups that will not hold their conventions here until a hotel is announced or under construction,” he said. “That translates into $3 billion in lost opportunity to our city.”

Last spring Jones admitted directly to me that while those groups say they won’t hold a convention in a city without an attached hotel, building an attached hotel doesn’t guarantee they will come to Dallas. So this is a big stretch on his part.

Jones adds that the majority of downtown hotels support the convention center hotel.

How many citywide?

The rest of the release is boilerplate about the hotel itself.

Overall? Given the seriousness of the allegations, the questionable motives of at least two named sources, and the verbal legerdemain employed by both Mayor Leppert and Philip Jones, this one fails.

Comments

  1. Nathan says:

    Solid analysis! I wish you could have criticized the money pit known as the Trinity Toll Road that well.

  2. ellum08@yahoo.com says:

    Trey,

    I support the hotel, but I have to admit, you provided a good analysis.

    One question, are you going to do the same type of analysis on the mailer I received from the CATOH?

    ‘Safer streets, not Hotel Suites’? C-mon, that is just as unacceptable and misleading in my opinion.

  3. gs1s says:

    vacancy s/b occupancy?

  4. gs1 — good catch. Corrected. Thank you.

    Ellum08 — If I see anything as blatant as this, absolutely. I’m open about my opposition to the hotel project, and it’s based on free market principle. But my highest principle is truth.

  5. Matthew Jones says:

    Just to clarify and fact-check your facts . . .

    A national, or citywide, convention doest not bring 3 room nights to the city, it brings a minimum of 2,500 and often exceeds 10,000.

    The current proposal would not be 100% funded by the city.

    The DallasCVB had record BECAUSE of the hotel. 195,000 of the 1,000,000 room nights booked are because of the hotel.

    To be clear (no word games) if the hotel is not built, 7 groups representing 195,000 room nights will not come to Dallas, and will go to another city.

    And, as far as guarantees go, if we do not build the hotel I guarantee we will not even be able to compete for those 80 groups you mention.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] dug up some good stuff in fact checking the anti-hotel camp’s press release that went out today. A woman quoted in [...]

  2. [...] Trey Garrison has fact-checked the Build the Hotel media release — wherein the pro-convention center hotel folks blast the anti-hotel faction’s signature gathering methods as “manipulative, misleading and over the top” — and found it lacking in, um, facts. And, more to the point, he reveals the true identity of one of the folks whining in the release about being accosted by “extremely aggressive” signature gatherers on two occasions. Turns out, Sophia Dowl is owner of Alpha Business Images on N. Central Expressway — whose Web site reveals hers is the company behind the Tom Leppert for Mayor Web site, c’mon. As Trey notes, that is “not acceptable.” –Robert Wilonsky [...]

  3. [...] Against the Taxpayer-Owned Hotel, Trey Garrison put on his fact-checking pants and went nuts. His biggest revelation was that one of the women quoted in the press release, Sophia Dowl, owns Alpha Business, which [...]

  4. [...] to block it. Some consider Dallas City Secretary Deborah Watkins a saint. Of particular note: Trey Garrison’s analysis of a press release distributed by hotel advocacy group, Build the [...]