Developer: Hotel tax break critics 'jealous'; City Hall: 'Do you believe in growth?'

The hotel site, now a parking lot, was leveled in 1999, eight years after the One Meridian fire. (Ron Tarver / Staff Photographer)

"I'm sorry these hotel owners are sort of jealous," says Brooks Lenfest, developer of the planned W and Element hotels on Chestnut St. west of Broad, of the protest to Mayor Nutter and City Council by a group of rival hotel owners to a planned Tax Increment Financing (TIF) zone. The TIF would divert $33 million in real estate taxes from the project so the Starwood Resorts-owned hotels could use the money to pay back debt on the project. 

"All those hotels received substantial subsidies," Lenfest told me. And some didn't pay the loans that were part of their deals, he noted. "The city wants this," Lenfest added, noting the Hotel Assocation of Greater Philadlephia hasn't opposed the plan. "The city spent $800 million building a Convention Center that can't have two conventions at the same time becuase of the lack of hotel rooms," he added. "We think occupancy will be higher for Philadelphia hotels when these are built."

"Do you believe in growth, or not?" added Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger, who notes Center City hotel rooms have doubled, to 10,000, with higher occupancy, since the Convention Center was built 20 years ago. "Growth is what happened here. Now we have people like Brooks Lenfest, with Starwood Hotels behind him, saying we need this hotel to expand the convention business. People are willing to invest a lot of money here so this will work."

Greenberger also said the hotel owners' petition got key facts wrong, for example by comparing the Philadelphia project to a Baltimore hotel that was directly funded by the city. He added that the TIF will prevent the hotel from benefiting from the city's new-construction tax abatement -- which it would otherwise qualify for, reducing the net subsidy value of the TIF.

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