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Guest Commentary

Hope for our city

11/25/2015

The proposed Iowa Events Center Hotel will be the biggest boost Des Moines has seen in centuries. In terms of development, we haven’t seen something this game-changing since the Iowa Events Center opened in 2005, or since the Iowa Events Center needed another $40 million to expand in 2010 because it was, as the Polk Counter Supervisors said, “No longer competitive.” draper

Now in 2015 the Iowa Events Center is no longer competitive all over again.

The proposed $101-million hotel has been years in the making and is turning into a real hands-across-Iowa movement. The Des Moines Redevelopment Company (DMRC) — warning: it is a non-profit, not an actual company — was formed in 2012 to purchase the land for the hotel. Led by heavy hitters like Meredith’s Steve Lacy as chairman, Principal’s Larry Zimpleman as vice chairman, and the Iowa Cubs’ Michael Gartner as secretary treasurer, the DMRC sold that land to the county, passing the baton to a new round of rich dudes with bad ideas.

Polk County, the Des Moines Partnership and business leaders like Jim Cownie and Bill Knapp and have stepped up to generously ask for other people’s money.

And man are businessmen good at getting public money. The Iowa Events Center Hotel has been promised $39 million from a special state funding program their friends in government passed for them plus $14 million from the city plus $6 million from the county.

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This money is in no way a “handout;” this is an investment. The Iowa Events Center Hotel, unlike the original Iowa Events Center or the expanded Iowa Events Center, will be a game changer. The money generated is nearly incalculable. A group of consultants who specialize in this thing, though, estimate that the Iowa Events Center Hotel would generate $1.2 billion in economic activity in just the first 20 years.

Wowzers! A billion?

With slam-dunk-successful numbers like that, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that not a single hotel company wants to develop this project. Though three hotels are being built in Des Moines right now, no hotel company wants to build a for-profit hotel. They probably wouldn’t able to handle the business. It would be too successful.

So, since hotels serve the public good, like orphanages or drug treatment centers, the Iowa Events Center Hotel will be a  “non-profit,” run by a board composed of hotel management experts who have never managed a hotel, appointed by the city and county.

A non-profit development group selling land to the county to develop a non-profit hotel.

It’s like an orphanage for businessmen.

The generosity fills me with so much hope for our city.

But like Uncle Billy’s trip to the bank in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” this fairy tale has taken a dark turn: A Federal program called EB-5, where rich foreigners get green cards in exchange for at least $500K in investment, is currently in limbo in Congress. No rich investors have shown up. The Iowa Events Center Hotel is now $20 million short.

“Where’s the money, you silly stupid old fool? Do you realize what this means?”

It means Des Moines may not get an Events Center Hotel it doesn’t need. It may mean rich guys who want a hotel but don’t want to pay for it may not get it.

Say it ain’t so! Something must be done. Who will give?

The guys backing this hotel have already done their part. In a true show of selflessness, they have already sold the land to the county, losing no money, and offered money to the County that the County will pay back with interest. What more can you ask for?

I guess you could ask for the Polk County supervisors to move out of America, rescind their citizenship, and then buy it back with an EB-5 investment in the Iowa Events Center Hotel.

But that would cost them money. Instead, we need citizens. We need everyone to step up. I mean, besides the county property tax money that would be used to cover this boondoggle when it falls short.

We’ve got the bucket at the store, we’re ringing the bell, and we’re going to see this thing through. Give all you can, give anything you can. It could be money, or it could be a note of support. Something like, “If you want a hotel, take on the risk and build it yourself, but don’t make the taxpayers pay for it.” CV

 Mike Draper is the owner of RAYGUN in East Village and a passionate blogger of all things Des Moines. View his posts on this subject and others at http://www.raygunsite.com/blog.

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