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Downtown Commission OKs CURE zoning for convention hotel

Monday, June 7, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

The race appears to be on, again, for a second downtown convention hotel, as attorney Michael Whellan earned the Downtown Commission’s blessing for CBD-CURE zoning on the downtown block once occupied by Las Manitas.


Whellan admitted he had very little – no developer and no letter of intent – for Tim Finley’s property, located on Congress Avenue between Second and Third streets. What Whellan did have was a renewed interest by Council in a second convention hotel, although he admitted that interest didn’t come with an incentive package. 


“They’ll probably have nice warm wishes and thanks and a group hug,” Whellan quipped. “Nothing more.”


Whellan requested, and the Downtown Commission endorsed, CBD-CURE zoning, but only if the property was home to a hotel of more than 700 rooms. Whellan said he considered that a fair trade for CURE zoning, noting that a 700+ room hotel would generate between $2 million and $4 million in bed tax.


“We needed to pay a price. There needed to be a price to get CURE,” Whellan told the commission. “In order to drive the policy, you’ve got to have something like 700 rooms that will generate more than $2 million in bed tax a year. I think, out of fairness, you can’t be asking for CURE without some metric. That’s a fair metric.”


Whellan’s intention was to request a 16:1 floor-to-area ratio. Architect Stan Haas, who made the motion in favor of the zoning change, said that was modest, given that CURE zoning can allow up to 25:1. Whellan joked that he was ready to amend his original request for CURE.


Not everyone agreed with that notion. For instance, Linda Guerrero of the Parks Board still wanted some type of community benefit in exchange for CURE, even if the property would not be residential in nature. And Richard Weiss of the Design Commission wanted to make sure – and got – a stipulation that an alley vacation requested by Whellan would still give through-traffic access.


Whellan’s request also included a 40-foot setback along Congress Avenue instead of the 60-foot setback prescribed by the Congress Avenue overlay. Commissioners had no problems with the compromise. 


Chair Mandy Dealey wanted to make sure that a trade for community benefits was on the table if the hotel included some additional floors of residential space. Whellan said the numbers on the hotel would likely mean no residential space at all.


All members of the commission except Guerrero, who wanted community benefits, and Dealey, who said the zoning case would be heard before her commission, voted in favor of the recommendation.

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