User-agent: * Allow: / Trenton Butcher Block: The Money Pit

"Our Liberties We Prize, Our Rights We Will Defend."

Commentary on national and local events from the standpoint of a Trenton city resident and state worker.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Money Pit

The Marriott hotel opened on Lafayette Street in downtown Trenton.  The hotel is owned by a city-owned nonprofit corporation.  So far it has consumed millions of taxpayer's dollars, yet has never made a profit.

How much would you be willing to pay to keep a hotel in your city?  For Trenton's mayor and city council, the answer of course is "plenty".  Last week the city council voted to shovel another $500,000 into the hotel to pay for operating expenses.  The hotel's board asked the city council for the additional money because it was unable to pay its vendors and probably would have gone out of business without the cash infusion.  The money is intended to keep the hotel open until the end of March when, guess what, more money may be needed.

And the half a million is just for operating expenses.  The city is required to pay $1.2 million per year for the bonds that were used to build the hotel.  So the hotel is unable to meet what amounts to its mortgage payment and is also unable to cover the day-to-day expenses for its operation.

Here, we are a place that has a high school that is falling down with garbage cans inside that are used to catch the water when it rains.  We are short 100 police officers after layoffs in July made necessary by Governor Christie's aid cuts and we are stuck with this albortos.  You would think the money would be better spent on public safety or schools, especially since last week's shootout on the Rt. 29 freeway.

Not here in fantasyland.  To truly understand the mindset of our public officials and the spineless mentality of the city's newspapers which help mold public opinion, you have to go back to the 1990s during Mayor Palmer's administration.   Palmer used to say that we were the only state capital in the country without a first class hotel and that such a hotel was needed to stimulate economic development.  He proposed that if a private company wasn't willing to come here and build one with their own money, then the city should borrow money and build the hotel on its own.  And that's just what we did.  In order to get a better interest rate on the bonds, we even signed an agreement binding the city's taxpayers for repayment of the bonds.  Which means that we can't just walk away from the $1.2 million per year, but must still pay it even if the hotel is shut down.

And where was the Trenton Times and Trentonian when our public officials came up with this stroke of genius?  Why they vigorously supported the mayor's plans.  And these are the same papers today which are loudly complaining about the city financing a bottomless pit.  They should have seen the possibility that perhaps companies wouldn't build a hotel here on their own because it wasn't profitable to do so.  Perhaps the "build it and they'll come" approach wasn't a good idea after all. 

So now we're stuck with this thing.  And it has had no impact on economic development as far as I can tell.  Even with the hotel, private companies aren't exactly breaking down the doors to open businesses here. 

Perhaps a functional school system and police department would do more than a fancy hotel to attract investment.  What do you think?  Exactly.

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