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Council members question wisdom of Greensboro hotel deal

by Eric Ginsburg

The Greensboro City Council approved almost $2 million in an incentive deal to support a new downtown hotel last week, frustrating council members Tony Wilkins and Marikay Abuzuaiter.

Zack Matheny, who could not be reached, also voted against the incentive deal to support an eightstory, 180-room luxury hotel on South Elm Street. Investors, including Greensboro residents Randall Kaplan and George House, said the Elm Street Center Hotel LLC project will also create a 177-space parking garage, restaurant, rooftop deck and will entail a “complete refurbishment of the existing Elm Street Center conference space.”

Backers said the development, which will be operated by Wyndam Hotels, will employ more than 150 people after opening and will amount to a $35 million investment in the city’s downtown. It all sounds too good to be true, Wilkins and Abuzuaiter said, arguing against the project and raising concerns about impacts on other hotels.

“I hope everybody that has built a hotel in Greensboro comes to the next council meeting and sits in the front row and asks for their portion,” Wilkins said. “The highest taxed and hungriest city continues to do the same thing expecting different results. I think there’s a word for that.”

Mayor Nancy Vaughan isn’t thrilled with Wilkins’ invitation.

“That’s kind of irresponsible,” she said.

Other hotel owners may not intend to take Wilkins up on his offer, but the Guilford County Hotel/Motel Association is none too pleased with the deal.

In a letter to council members before the vote last week, the association made its case.

“It is the position of this organization that all hotels ought to compete on a level playing ground; as such we do not advocate that the Greensboro City Council provide incentives to subsidize the development of a new hotel without providing an equal incentive to all other hotels,” the letter reads. “Although we could provide a litany of other reasons why we oppose this incentive, ranging from the disproportionate number of jobs it will create to current market occupancy  levels, our voting members would be deeply disappointed if the city chooses to utilize their tax dollars to subsidize a new hotel.”

Abuzuaiter cited the letter and other local opposition, as well as a dearth of support, as part of the reason she opposed the deal.

“I believe that it’s going to be a competitive market so I believe it will harm our other markets,” she said. “I only got one phone call saying it was a good idea, from one of the people involved, and that says something to me.”

Abuzuaiter also said one of her primary concern relates to the number and type of jobs being created.

Though she was told that the Elm Street Center will continue operating during the construction phase, Abuzuaiter said she couldn’t get a clear answer about whether it would be at full tilt or whether jobs would be displaced. Her concern is that some of the projected 150+ new jobs will actually be people laid off during construction who are reabsorbed.

The at-large councilwoman also took issue with the job information presented by the project’s backers, saying she was given contradicting information “You know that they’re going to bring in their own people for upperlevel management,” she said. “They’re not going to hire local people. You wouldn’t expect a corporation to.”

Wilkins, who said he has a “philosophical belief that city government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers in the private industry,” doesn’t see it as a fair investment. There are 19 other hotels that haven’t asked for a penny, Wilkins said, and he said he wants to “see council justify turning down other hotel owners.”

That direct incentives of this kind haven’t been provided to other hotels in Greensboro may be true strictly speaking, Assistant City Manager Andy Scott said, but there is more to it. The city has made improvements that benefited other hotels before, he said, citing significant improvements to the Interstate 40 interchange that benefited the Koury Convention Center, along with transportation grants for work on the center’s parking lot.

Scott noted that City Manager Jim Westmoreland recommended the incentive proposal to council after receiving staff input. He declined to take a position on the issue, but outlined some reasons the deal makes economic sense.

“If you go to most major cities around the country that we compete with there is one or more luxury hotel downtown,” Scott said. “Sometimes you can have a project that can truly be a catalyst.”

Scott said that the city “has very explicit performance-based incentive requirements” that will hold the developers to meeting the criteria, such as 20 percent or more participation of minority- and women-owned businesses in contracting, before incen-Lately I’ve noticed the television airwaves have been inundated with commercials for on-line dating services. I’ve also noticed that these services are very niche oriented, with each one targeted to a specific demographic. Match.com is probably the best known and most inclusive of the on-line dating services, but there are scores of others that make no apologies for being exclusive. Buzz Feed’s Paul Frank recently listed some of the more diverse sites, and, thanks to Google, I discovered a myriad of others. Here, in honor of Valentine’s Day, are some of my favorites:

AmishDating.com features a romantic carriage ride on its home page and a photo of a girl hugging a raccoon. Those Amish women love anything with facial hair.

On-line dating lacks spontaneity

SeaCaptainDate.com’s slogan is “Find Your First Mate,” and allows nautical men to enter from either the bow or the stern.

Vampersonals.com assists like-minded vampires and Goths in finding someone suitable to neck with. It also gives the old phrase “punctured romance” a whole new meaning.

Clowndating.com’s slogan is, “Everyone loves a clown, so let a clown love you.” That’s the line I used on my wife.

DiaperMates.com is a dating site that matches up adults who like to wear baby diapers (and they say divorce is messy).

Singleswithfoodallergies.com matches up people with peanuts envy.

SaladMatch.com’s slogan is “Find your salad soul mate today!” It’s a holistic dating service for singles who love their salad tossed.

DarwinDating.com is “For beautiful people only.” It features photos of men with open shirts and women with open shirts. Now if they just featured people with open minds.

TrekPassions.com is all about matching up Star Trek fans and its slogan is “Love long and prosper.” The goal is for men who use the service to move out of their parents’ house by age 50.

Purrsonals.com is the nation’s only online dating service for singles who worship p*ssies.

Farmersonly.com’s slogan is “City folks just don’t get it.” Apparently neither do farmers who need to use this service.

And, there are also online dating services which cater to specific races and colors, such as Blacksingles.com and Whitepeoplemeet.com.

I have a problem with all of these online dating services for two reasons. First, they serve to fractionalize our society and promote social segregation at a time when our nation strives to be more diverse and inclusive. There’s nothing wrong with people marrying within their own race or religion; I’m just not sure it’s all that healthy for us to be defined by what we are instead of who we are. Left to the laws of nature, opposites attract and that’s a good thing, because couples can learn from each other’s differences. Left to online dating, opposites aren’t allowed to attract.

My main problem with online dating services, though, is that they diminish the kind of spontaneous combustion that can occur when two people of varied backgrounds and interests meet by chance, and fall in love naturally. My wife Pam and I met at a business luncheon, and soon thereafter we started courting by phone. Later we began dating, and a year later we were married. We didn’t need a website to tell us we were meant for each other. We just fell in love the old fashioned way.

Of course, every culture has its own idea of what old-fashioned dating means. In some areas of Egypt, lovebirds can only meet and date with parental approval and with a chaperone in tow. In Germany and Switzerland it is common for singles to meet at a festival or other pubic event, then end up dating. And in Nyangatom, Ethiopia, a man must impress the parents of the woman he wants to date by giving his prospective father-in-law 500 cows.

Unfortunately here in America, it seems that the old traditions of dating are going by the wayside, with more and more people meeting electronically. In fact, according to a 2005 Pew Research survey, over 3 million of us are married to, or involved with, someone we met through an online dating service, and that number is growing. Meanwhile some guys are now constructing computer-generated avatars of the women they like, rather than waiting for an online dating service to provide a match. What’s next? Holographic dating?

I’m glad my wife isn’t an avatar, and I’m glad that we met spontaneously, not electronically. Now if I could just get those 500 cows back from my father-in-law. 

JIM LONGWORTH is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11am on WMYV (cable channel 15).

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