$800K hotel incentive package, this City’s disgraceful public process
Here is the pre-City Council vote warning before you read the Wednesday news article “Private Hotel Developer Awarded Large Incentive Package from the City of Montrose”. You may read that Wednesday article and say, “I didn’t hear anything about that.” Well, unless you pay close attention to the local wheels of government, you would not know. And, I could not blame you because based on what you could know, it’s all happening in under two weeks’ time. Why? Because the City of Montrose public process is a disgrace.
On the table right now (per the upcoming Tuesday City Council & MURA board meetings) are incentive packages of approximately $800,000 to a South Dakota hotel developer to build the Marriott affiliated property Fairfield Inn (a fresh subsidy on the already heavily subsidized Colorado Outdoors property). Lamont Companies, the South Dakota hotel developer, is a private business involved with hotels brands such as Hilton, Marriott, InterContinental, casinos, and is at the doorstep of Montrose to close on $800K worth of incentives from our community.
While the Montrose governance does not find urgency on agenda items such as exempting local sales tax on a family necessity like food (we are one of the rare cities in the USA that taxes food), this city is ready to ram through a deal that directly benefits a select few. Guess what, working class Montrose pays the taxes to fund the proposed irresponsible incentives.
The timeline of (no) public input
January 6th at a council work session the city provided a presentation outlining an incentive package for a hotel developer. Aside from attending the 10 am workday meeting, you cannot see the presentation because the city has suspended posting these meeting videos (unlike the transparency of Montrose County). The public is welcome to attend a work session, but there is no public comment allowed.
January 7th the Montrose Urban Renewal Authority (MURA), the board that includes council and the city manager and calls the shots on the Colorado Outdoors project, arranges a special meeting to discuss the hotel project. A MURA meeting is open to the public. After roll call the board motions to take this meeting into executive session. Moving into executive session means the public needs to leave the meeting. The public no longer is a part of this MURA meeting.
January 21st at 3pm MURA will hold a meeting to approve considerations related to entering an incentive driven business contract with Lamont Companies. This represents the final step for the MURA board to approve the deal and, of course, comes about with no public discussion.
January 21st this same hotel deal is on the City Council agenda for the 6pm meeting. At this meeting council may vote to finalize and bind this contract. This Lamont deal is a posted council agenda item before the MURA board has even approved on their side. During the City Council meeting is when the public may comment, thank you for the “consideration” well after the wheels of Montrose city government have spun. Montrose community member, do you feel your voice will be heard or considered?
Ram it through
Within 10 days of a work session presentation a finalized legal document is available to view and ready for a final vote on January 21st. A business contract which would trigger the $800K incentives is headed directly to council chambers, no agenda pre discussions, straight to the house. During this 10-day whirlwind, what has been the opportunity for the public to speak? Zero. Folks, of course the wheels of city government have been working on this project for a while, but they prefer that you do not know. I think the reason is rather obvious.
The very few who win
Lamont Companies is of course a winner, and the unfair advantage they are receiving over other hotel developments in this city is a joke. The bigger joke, your money goes directly to a private company. The Colorado Outdoors LLC owner (the land developer) wins, a city incentive closes the hotel deal which requires the sale transfer of one of his real estate lots. Folks, please keep in mind, the Colorado Outdoors project has already been provided over $8M by the city to build out the streets, utilities, and landscaping. The Colorado Outdoors LLC owner & developer got that build out for free.
Carried on the backs
Who loses? The Montrose taxpayer loses, especially this community’s working class who scrap by only to be welcomed into 2020 with an 18% local sales tax increase that benefits wealthy real estate land developers and hotels developers. Who loses? Anyone who believes in community fairness and transparency loses through this disgrace of a public process. Who loses? The community members who will read the news on Wednesday loses, the community member who did not even understand what was going on until it was too late.
Scott Damman, Montrose