From The Editors

Categories:  From the Editors    Opinion    Community
Tuesday, February 18th, 2014 at 7:00 PM

It couldn’t have been easy. The decision had all but been made final with the tap of the ceremonial mallet against the wooden sounding block. But the meeting had just started, a throng of people were waiting to speak, yell, and plead, yet at that point, it was all just a formality, the playing out of roles and processes in proper order.

But still, in a room crowded with ardent and fervent supporters, upward he walked to the loneliest point in the room, the podium where he’d deliver a hard speech to give: The acknowledgment of defeat before the end of the battle.

Representing Scott Enterprises, Nick Scott, Sr. spoke his mind and voiced his concern one last time. And then, quietly, he walked away from the microphone to a choppy applause and took his seat.

Onward went the speeches, and onward went the meeting. And then, the decision was made final: Erie County Council voted 4-2, winners were declared, and losers were left with the bitter taste of defeat.

You know the story: The Erie County Convention Center Authority lobbied fast and hard for the County to issue a bond guarantee for the construction of a hotel connected to the Bayfront Convention Center. That bond guarantee would help cover what a grant from the state — $25 million spread out over five years — wouldn’t.

But taxpayers wouldn’t really be put on the hook unless the Authority was forced to default on its loan. And if the past is an indication of the future, there’s a good chance taxpayers won’t have to shell out a nickel for the 191-room hotel.

First, the Sheraton on the Bayfront was erected under the same conditions. And Erie County taxpayers haven’t had to front any bills for fresh towels or a turndown service yet. Second, studies provided by the Authority indicate a need for a second hotel to accommodate overflow from conventions. And that study suggests a third hotel — like the one that Scott Enterprises had proposed in their Harbor Place project —  could survive  and thrive.

But those are just projections, some may argue. It’s still frightening to think that taxpayers will be on the hook for any sum of money used for development that a private entity stressed repeatedly it could satisfy.

Yes, those are projects, and yes, a risk is involved. And Jay Stevens handles the topic quite well in this issue with his Street Corner Soapbox column “Let There Be Hotel!”

But what about the winners and losers in the Battle Over the Bayfront?

Perhaps that’s best answered with another question: What if this is still — as Rebecca Styn wrote in our last issue — A Tale of Two Hotels? Let’s suppose this never really was a this-or-that argument — and that really, there aren’t any losers here.

As we wrote right here in our last issue, decisions will soon be made that will affect Erie for generations to come. We still believe that this story can be one of two visions for Erie, working in tandem, being realized at the same time. That’s what this city needs, but above all else, something has to happen to get the ball rolling.

That something right now is the shovel-ready ECCCA project moving forward to bring more visitors to Erie by way of more and larger conventions, and paving the way for a robust development of the vacant GAF property. For now though, providing more attractive accommodations for convention goers (not having to walk outside or drive down from Upper Peach to get to a convention hall sounds like a pretty good deal — especially in the dead of winter) results in a win for the city. In the future, perhaps these folks could spend their money at an ice rink or restaurant just a stone’s throw away. Or on a floating barge to see a concert on the other side of the Bicentennial Tower.

So this is the start of something, and this decision can end up being a small part of a very big future if all citizens remain as committed to the Bayfront development in the future as they have been in the recent past. As we said in our last issue: If ever Erie deserved more than a puncher’s chance at putting the “gem” clearly and boldly in “Gem City,” it’s now, the very moment that change and growth seem to be more than whispers in the air — they seem palpable. The energy for change, for growth, for development is abuzz in Erie.

Erie Reader: Vol. 6, No. 21
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