Dallas, TX – The Omni Convention Center Hotel opens in downtown Dallas Friday. There are high hopes for the 500 million dollar, city-owned hotel because if it falters, taxpayers pick up the tab. KERA's BJ Austin reports.
Omni Convention Center Hotel General Manager Nils Stolzlechner oversees every detail of the 23-story, state-of-the-art hotel: from the lobby ---
Stolzlechner: We've got Egyptian marble that you're looking at.
To the sports bar.
Stolzlechner: Seventy-two TV monitors in here.
The largest one is 18 feet tall.
Stolzlechner: The longest bar in Dallas. It's about 65 foot long. You've got a frosted rail, so when you put your beer on there - you see where the ice is - you put your beer right on there, it stays cold. Pretty neat.
In the guest rooms, there are TV's embedded in the bathroom mirrors. And it's a "green" building. Stolzlechner says it's the first hotel outside of Las Vegas to be LEED certified as environmentally friendly and energy-saving. A key part of that is a 25 thousand gallon cistern in the parking garage.
Stolzlechner: All water that comes from your AC, anything that condenses goes into that tank. Then it gets put into the landscaping of the building, then back up to the cooling tower. It saves us about 50% on our water bill.
Dallas City Council member Vonciel Jones Hill says that's great, but will the hotel "make" money. Hill opposed a "city-owned" Convention Center hotel.
Hill: I did not believe then and I do not believe now that the hotel will clear enough revenue to sustain itself. I thought then, and I think now that ultimately the taxpayers are going to pick up some, if not all, of the financial responsibility for that enterprise.
Taxpayers are responsible for an escalating amount each year to pay off the 500 million in bonds used to "build the hotel". The city's annual bond payment is 22 million dollars for the next three years, then it increases gradually to 37 million over the next 30 years. If things go wrong, there's a reserve fund of about 40 million "tax" dollars that the city would have to tap.
But, hotel General Manager Nils Stolzlechner says that's not likely to happen. He says the hotel expects to fill all one thousand rooms at least ten nights in February. And, more than 225 groups are booked over the next three to four years. Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau President Phillip Jones says the hotel is already doing what was promised: bringing in more big conventions because so many meeting planners demand an attached convention center hotel.
Jones: In the two years leading up to the vote to approve the Convention Center Hotel, we booked 18 big, citywide conventions; roughly ten thousand or more hotel rooms. In the two years since we received voter approval on the Convention Center Hotel, we've booked 55. So, we've more than tripled the number of big conventions coming to Dallas.
Jones says each one of those has an average economic impact of 18 million dollars.
In Dallas, hotel occupancy is recovering. It's 58%, up from last year. And Phillip Jones predicts that will grow with an increase in conventions thanks to the hotel.
Houston and Baltimore both have city-owned convention center hotels. Both cities say even though the recession cut bookings, the hotels have been able to meet their debt service payments and payroll.
Anne Raymond is with Crow Holdings, which owns the Anatole and led the opposition to a city-owned convention center hotel. She says she still has concerns.
Raymond: But the taxpayers voted for it and we have it. I've had a chance to tour it and it looks like it's going to be a great-looking asset. And so now, we just want it to be as successful as it can be.
Raymond hopes the increase in convention business will benefit ALL Dallas hotels.