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Marriott machinations mired in politics

Would Initiatives Prince George done things differently?

Would the former economic development arm of the city, doing business at arm’s length from city hall, done things differently with the Marriott Hotel proposal? The easy answer, I suppose, is ‘yes’ because construction on the hotel had halted long before IPG’s demise. IPG was jetting off to Ireland to try and attract workers to Prince George while the hotel sat idle.

Then Lyn Hall was elected mayor. Things changed and IPG was dismantled, the city’s economic development function was brought in-house, under the watchful eye of mayor and council.

First up was the RiverBend Seniors Community. They had spoken to the previous council about locating here, but things hadn’t panned out. Hall made a call to the RiverBend folks and got the ball rolling. It didn’t take long and a new building was going up.

An economic development success, with the mayor’s fingerprints all over it.

But the concrete slab with rebar pickets and a crane scarecrow was still an eyesore downtown. Hall had to look at it every day as he made his way to City Hall.

Something had to be done.

The developer needed some incentive to crank up the crane.

Eyes at city hall (I’m sure it was a collaborative effort) turned to the Revitalization Tax Exemption Early Benefit program, a $5 million Northern Development Initiative Trust fund handing out up-front cash in the form of a repayable grant over 10 years.

Kudos to the Prince George Citizen which last week revealed the city had about $3.4 million left in the program, offered $3.2 million of it to the Marriott Hotel developers, and went, hat in hand, to NDIT for more money.

The NDIT board, worried that the city was putting all its economic development eggs in one basket and worried about repayment from a hotel project that had already failed once, denied the city’s request.

It’s a rather ironic turn of events when how the city handles economic development. It’s a prime example of why Initiatives Prince George was set up to be at arm’s length from city hall and political influence. Don’t get me wrong, no one other than perhaps Heather Oland, shed a tear at IPG’s demise.

The case had long been made in the community that Initiatives Prince George and city economic development needed to be more accountable to the city it was serving. Hall heard those calls and he responded. IPG was mothballed and economic development moved to city hall. He scored a lot of political points with that move and RiverBend was another feather in the cap.

The irony set in two years later with council making a textbook case for why economic development should be at arm’s length from political influence with the Marriott Hotel decisions.

Why can’t we find the middle ground?

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