Lincoln’s Republican candidate for mayor had her first experience meeting the press today.
She was introduced by Councilman Jon Camp — who probably wished he were the one making the announcement, if it didn’t mean he’d have to give up his council seat.
Her three main issues are:
• “Massive” city debt — $720 million worth — although she couldn’t say what she’d do about that. Although to be fair, it’s not like you can wave a magic wand and make those debts disappear.
• Tax increases under Mayor Chris Beutler’s reign — she said there have been nine of them, although I can’t think of that many. There’s the voter-approved bar and restaurant taxes for the arena, a slight property tax increase and an expansion of the telecommunications tax. But she also listed impact fees (where developers have to help pay for the cost of bringing infrastructure to their projects) and utility rate increases, which I wouldn’t call taxes but they do hit voters’ wallets anyway.
• Ever-increasing salaries in labor agreements.
Buffington did fine with her speech, until it was time to answer reporters’ questions (which is the worst part of any press conference for the person behind the microphone).
She struggled when asked what she would do about the state-mandated system of setting public employees’ salaries (the ol’ CIR issue). State GOP Chairman Mark Fahleson helped her out by saying all Mayor Beutler has done on this issue is — to paraphrase — talk big and send a little ol’ letter to state lawmakers. Buffington would march up the capitol and really push for change, he was saying.
When asked whether she supported the bar and restaurant taxes that will help pay for the arena, she said she didn’t. She said she voted against the arena bonds. But she also said she’s excited about the project, which she referred to as “our situation.” That was somewhat confusing.
She was quite poised and well-spoken for a newcomer to politics — but she has a lot of homework to do before her first debate with Mayor Chris Beutler. Alas, the life of a non-incumbent. And kudos to any novice willing to enter the sometimes-brutal arena.
With the venerable Cornhusker Hotel (that’s what we like to call it) teetering on the edge of foreclosure, one has to wonder what’s going through the minds of the developers who have four more hotels planned for downtown Lincoln.
And the city plans to dole out financial incentives to all four of them — infuriating some existing hotel owners. There’s the hotel that will be built across the street from the yet-to-be-built arena, a hotel to be built by WRK in the Haymarket, another Haymarket hotel literally across the street from WRK’s being planned by B&J Partnership, and a hotel on the block straight south of the Gold’s Building.
I’ll be shocked if the Gold’s project ever gets built — but the other three seem pretty sure to be built right now. Buildings have already been demolished and work is scheduled to begin this year on the two Haymarket hotels.
But if the Cornhusker is having financial problems, how will four more hotels fare? And should the city be giving developers tax breaks to help them build, when most other Lincoln hotels are not exactly filling their beds?
The owner of the downtown Holiday Inn has previously expressed his unhappiness with the city’s plans to subsidize up to four more downtown hotels — but city officials have so far been undeterred, saying, in essence, if the market is too saturated, the developers won’t be able to get financing anyway.
The Holiday Inn owner warned in August that Lincoln’s occupancy rate is only about 54 percent, and said Lincoln didn’t have room for one more hotel, much less four subsidized hotels. He flat out said he would lose his investment in the Holiday Inn if the hotels are built.
Meanwhile, the Cornhusker Marriott will go up for public auction on Feb. 17 unless it comes up with enough money to pay its former management company, Island Hospitality Management. Island Hospitality is trying to force the issue by by threatening foreclosure against Shubh Hotels Lincoln, which owns the Cornhusker but has lost most of its other hotels nationwide due to financial problems.
Island Hospitality recently obtained an $800,000 judgment against Shubh Hotels for unpaid bills and got court approval to garnish rents from office tenants in Cornhusker Plaza, according to the Lincoln Journal Star.
It’ll be interesting to see if any city officials have anything to say about any of this, given their plans to help build four more — I’m not going to hold my breath though.