Thursday, February 24, 2011

Charles Skelton Speaks

The report that we described in our previous post (a study of the feasibility of a hotel/conference center in downtown Ann Arbor) was thorough and explicit, but it contained a mystery: why did Charles (Chuck) Skelton create such a report, given the effort and likely expense?

Mary Hathaway interviewed him on February 23, 2011. Here is Mary's account:

Mr. Skelton told me that the idea of doing this study was born during the interview with Sabra Briere and Peter Allen, which we have all read in AnnArbor.Com (January 2010).

This kind of study is the specialty of his firm, which is located in Ann Arbor. He saw the city heading down the path to a serious mistake and decided to help by supplying information. (Information which, curiously, was not being demanded by the decision-makers.) He assigned a couple of people on his staff to do research on the subject. He himself talked with a few people to whom he had access. The result is the report which recently landed in Council mailboxes.

I told Mr. Skelton that his report had come as a huge relief to the people whom I knew who have been concerned about this subject for a long time. "Did you realize how timely your action has been?" I asked.

No, he answered. He was surprised when I told him that City Council may be asked to vote on March 7 for a Letter of Intent which has already been drafted and would commit the City to work with the Valiant partners. He had not been aware that a decision was so close. "I don't follow the politics," he said. "I don't know who is for this and who is against." He does not plan to attend the Council meeting.

He said that other Midwestern cities--often college towns--have been similarly misled into building conference centers. Someone comes in and persuades them what a great idea it is. The right questions are not asked. He said that private investors would be quick to act if there were a real market or need for a hotel or conference center. He would have no argument with that. But when a developer asks for public investment or subsidy, the answer should be "no." What is proposed for Ann Arbor would not bring in new business; it would simply draw business away from existing hotels--who lack the advantage of a taxpayer subsidy. This would be unfair. And this would happen in a context where conventions are used less and less frequently.

He said he will be attentive to Council's action on this proposal.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Report on Finances of an Ann Arbor Conference Center

As we explained in a post last year, Charles (Chuck) Skelton is a nationally recognized authority on the hospitality industry, especially hotel and conference facilities. He is also the chair of the Washtenaw County Accommodation Ordinance Commission (the board to which the Ann Arbor Convention and Visitors' Bureau reports). See the description of his firm and list of clients here.

Mr. Skelton evidently was concerned on hearing some of the plans afoot for a hotel and conference center in his own community and applied his skills and resources to produce a report on the likely financial outcomes of such a plan. It has been reviewed on the Local in Ann Arbor blog, and a scanned copy of the report is here.