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Convention center hotel plans still undeveloped

| Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2002

Sports & Exhibition Authority officials made plans to open the David L. Lawrence Convention Center next year without a key companion project.

The authority's board on Monday approved $458,337 in change orders for the center's design that will allow the completed facility Downtown to open in 2003 without an adjoining, 500-room hotel. Plans for the hotel have not gotten off the drawing board as city and county officials have been working out designs and financing schemes with private developers.

Plans for the hotel also were affected by Sept. 11 and the ensuing slowdown in travel that left developers across the country rethinking hotel projects. Still, authority Executive Director Steve Leeper said he was optimistic the authority could strike a deal for the hotel within the next few months. Leeper declined to identify potential developers in negotiations with the authority.

"It's not a particularly strong time to be negotiating hotel deals," Leeper said. "The developers want to ensure that they'll get a return, and so does the city and the county."

Allegheny County could subsidize as much as $27 million of the $100 million hotel project. Another $8 million could come from the state, and $10 million could be raised by attaching a tax-increment financing package, or TIF, to the plan.

Disputes on the design were raised when Forest City Enterprises, the potential developer, proposed building a new hotel next to the Westin Hotel and attaching the two structures on each floor. Forest City said the design would minimize costs for operating the hotel.

Local architects, however, said building a wall over Penn Avenue would ruin views of Downtown from the Strip District.

The change orders approved included $280,462 for adding panels on the south side of the convention center at Penn Avenue and 10th Street.

"It's conceivable that we could be open at this time next year without final plans for the hotel," Leeper said. "It will be a somewhat unusual set of circumstances where we have a convention center, but the hotel rooms for that center are spread out throughout Downtown."

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