Feb. 07--Questions have been asked, positions taken and data crunched.
For Erie County Council, Tuesday is decision time.
County Council is poised to vote Tuesday night on a proposed multimillion-dollar debt guarantee for a new hotel at the Bayfront Convention Center.
The panel decided at its Finance Committee meeting Thursday to put the debt guarantee -- for up to $60 million -- on Tuesday's meeting agenda for a final reading after discussing financial and other issues related to the request.
Barring a last-minute request by a council member to seek tabling the issue, a vote is expected to happen Tuesday night.
"I know I'm ready to vote," said Councilman Edward T. DiMattio Jr., who supports the request.
However, Councilwoman Carol Loll said she doesn't trust the financial information she's been given about whether the guarantee would put taxpayers at risk. She plans to vote no.
"I'm not going to put the taxpayers on the hook," Loll said.
Also on Thursday, Councilman Jay Breneman wrote a letter to constituents saying he will not support the request unless the Erie County Convention Center Authority, which made the debt guarantee request, agrees to a payment in lieu of property taxes agreement.
The authority wants a new publicly owned, publicly funded hotel and parking garage adjacent to the Bayfront Convention Center on the Sassafras Street Pier.
The authority, which also has a $25 million state grant for the project, wants to use county government's high-grade debt rating to save nearly $20 million in interest costs on either a long-term capital bond or bank financing.
County government would be on the hook for repayment only if the authority defaulted on its loan.
The authority sought and received a similar guarantee -- $48 million -- from county government in 2005 for the 200-room Sheraton Erie Bayfront Hotel on West Dobbins Landing, which is connected to the Convention Center by an overhead walkway.
The Sheraton opened in 2008, and the authority has been making payments for years on that county-backed bond debt.
The Sheraton's financial performance thus far, which County Council accountant Joe Maloney called solid -- has been a key discussion point.
However, officials from Scott Enterprises have asked County Council to reject the guarantee. They have claimed that a second publicly guaranteed hotel will eat into the Sheraton's revenues, and that the Erie County Convention Center Authority has not fully explored that possibility.
Scott Enterprises has also proposed Harbor Place, a $150 million waterfront development that would include at least one hotel and mostly be privately funded, though it is seeking a $12 million state grant.
"They haven't done any studies on that," said Scott Enterprises President Nick Scott Sr. "They don't care. Is it fair to the taxpayers? What's going to happen when you open a competitor directly next door?
Casey Wells, the Convention Center Authority's executive director, disputed Scott's argument.
"We have asked our consultants that. It would be foolish not to," Wells said. "They have told us the new hotel will not impede the Sheraton's ability to meet all of its financial obligations. They have data to support that."
Councilman Andre Horton, who said he is not convinced the new hotel would benefit his constituents on Erie's lower east side, said he would like to table the issue, "but I don't think I have the votes."
Only six council members are expected to vote on the issue because Councilman Fiore Leone plans to abstain because of a conflict of interest if he can attend the meeting. Leone is scheduled for a surgical procedure Tuesday.
That means Horton would need three other colleagues to agree to postpone a vote.
"Yes, I would like more time to make a more informed decision," Horton said.
Council Chairman Kyle Foust, like DiMattio, plans to support the guarantee. Councilman Phil Fatica is undecided.
A 3-3 tie would defeat the measure.
County Council meets Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Erie County Courthouse, 140 W. Sixth St.
KEVIN FLOWERS can be reached at 870-1693 or by e-mail. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ETNflowers.
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