Friday, November 26, 2010

The Hotel Of Dreams

Whether or not the proposed downtown Marriott is the no-brainer the Journal Sentinel claims (they claim any development is a win-win) is debatable. Will it bring more business travelers downtown? Will it increase the City's annual tax revenue by $2.2 million? How will a new hotel enhance the regions tourism and marketing efforts? How will a new hotel boost downtown development?

The constructions jobs are obviously a good (temporary) thing. The low-wage, seasonal jobs created by the hotel are jobs, but not the best. Any development will have a construction boost and create some jobs. Whether or not this is the most optimal, is the best location, and is worth destroying historic buildings, are questions that need answers.

If they plan on razing the historic buildings - something Milwaukee still has numerous examples of, which we should be maintaining - are the developers planning to build something that echoes a bygone era? Or, are they planning on building a modern, square, glass, monstrosity which will look completely out of place downtown? (We already have enough cheap-looking and out-of-character new condos.)

Business travelers come to a place because they have business to attend to. They don't travel to different downtowns to just stay a night at the new hotel. Likewise, tourists don't visit cities just to see the latest hotels. "There's nothing to see here, but our pillows are the softest!" I have yet to see a successful marketing effort for a city focused on hotels.

Improving economic opportunities for residents, creating places of interest, and having accessible and connected transportation routes attracts business, tourists, and creates a buzz. Supply by itself does not attract other development, nor assure success. Simply building a new hotel will not attract new development. The demand has to be here, or some signs of demand on the horizon, before a savvy investor would bet millions on a location or development. And, just because one development moves forward, this does not guarantee others will follow.

I'm not completely against this project, but neither am I completely for it. More questions need to be asked and more details provided. The Journal's marching ahead of any serious discussion and declaring this project a catalyst of development is cavalier and premature. Let's see the site plan, what kind of financing is entailed, and what the impact analyses are forecasting. It's one thing to move swiftly on a well-corroborated project, but quite another to haphazardly move forward on just hopes and wishes.

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