Louisville entrepreneur Gill Holland has taken issue with the planned Omni Hotel & Residences slated for the former Water Company Block in Downtown Louisville. In an op-ed for the Courier-Journal called “Listen to community on Omni issues” and dated July 6, a clearly frustrated Holland noted that “the groundswell of citizen dismay is growing,” adding that the entire process “has been a serious disappointment in democracy.”
He was referring to problems that are becoming increasingly apparent with the Omni plan as it stands today.
Like many who are critical of the current plan—including Broken Sidewalk—Holland supports building the hotel in the city. He acknowledges that Louisville needs more hotel rooms. He goes on to say that “it often makes sense for government to use our taxpayer dollars to incentivize private corporations if it is a good investment of those dollars”—Metro Louisville is subsidizing the $289 million complex with $139 million in taxpayer dollars. His caveat, however, is that if public funds are used, there better be more than the standard return on investment (ROI). Holland wants a “Return on Community” or ROC.
Holland laid out his concerns clearly in his op-ed:
There are two main problems with this deal. One is financial. The clause of the contract where the city contractually promises NOT to incentivize any other significant (more than 400 rooms) hotel group within a mile of downtown for almost 10 years is of utmost concern. In my mind, the city will grow significantly in the next decade, and we will need another major hotel. But nope, that can’t happen, not if it is within a mile. What if a developer wants to build a 400-room hotel overlooking the upcoming Waterfront Park West? Nope. This clause is a competition killer, and government should encourage competition, not stifle it.
The second problem is a general lack of transparency and community involvement in this deal. When city government commits a huge amount ($139 million) of taxpayer dollars to subsidize a private corporation, there is a huge corresponding responsibility to include community input. This deal was done without adequate community input.
Despite the community coming forward with an interest in being part of the process, most visibly with a design charrette on improving the Omni design and finding ways to save the old Water Company Headquarters, Holland laments the city’s lack of concern and attitude that the “deal is done.”
Holland suggested that a “Development Mitigation Fund” be established for future city deals with a high level of subsidy. One percent of the project budget would be included in this fund to support community goals, such as preservation or establishing future design charrettes—essentially to bring the community into the process.
Holland knows a thing or two about community building and responsible development. He helped lay the groundwork for what is today Nulu by developing The Green Building and working to rehab dozens of properties along East Market Street. He is currently pursuing an aggressive revitalization campaign in the Portland neighborhood under the banner of the Portland Investment Initiative.