Iowa officials approve sale of convention center
Jul. 18, 2017
WATERLOO, Iowa (AP) — Iowa officials have approved the sale of a convention center to a Nebraska-based company in a move that will leverage about $20 million in renovations, but the decision has left some officials uneasy.
The Waterloo City Council gave Leslie Hospitality a more than $1 million grant and 15 years of 34 percent tax rebates in return for the company's $6 million renovation of the Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (http://bit.ly/2tBDBvG ) reported.
A related agreement has the Omaha-based developer buying the adjacent hotel and investing $14 million in renovations and rebranding. The city will provide 20 years of 85 percent tax rebates.
"There are no alternatives waiting in the wings that don't require more taxpayer money," said Aaron Buzza, past director of the Waterloo Convention and Visitors Bureau. "There's no organization waiting in the wings to take this on."
Supporters of the deal said it will increase the city's property taxes while avoiding costing taxpayers to pay for the renovation.
Councilmen Tom Lind said he supports the agreements but that the city needed more time to review the company's background. He also wanted more time to receive commitment letters from banks and the hotel chain.
Leslie Hospitality CEO Edwin Leslie has been involved with several bankruptcies. But Leslie said that during 20 years in business, his firm has seen two out of 42 hotels fail.
Previous debate about the convention center's renovations centered on the name. The developer plans to rebrand the convention center as the Waterloo Convention Center.
The plan calls for building a plaza with a memorial to honor the five Sullivan brothers, who were among nearly 700 sailors who died when the USS Juneau was struck by a Japanese torpedo in 1942. Their deaths lead to a change in the Navy's policy that no longer allows family members to serve together.
"With all due respect, Mr. Leslie, there's a lot of Waterloos in the United States; there's a lot of Waterloos in the world; there's only one five Sullivan brothers," said Councilmen Steve Schmitt.
The developer said a name change is necessary in order to overcome the convention center's poor reputation.
Information from: Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, http://www.wcfcourier.com