Courtyard Marriott developers to try again for a TIF

Since the Metro Council voted last month to deny the creation of a special tax increment financing district to help fund construction of a new Courtyard Marriott downtown, the hotel’s developers have been meeting individually with council members in hopes of convincing them to bring the TIF measure back up for a vote in the next few weeks.

Representatives of South Carolina-based Windsor Aughtry Co. and their local partners—Gordon “Skeet” Leblanc and his sister, Moffett Leblanc Strain—have met with all but three council members and are optimistic their message is being heard. Dozens of local businesses, particularly downtown merchants, have also sent letters in support of the project to the council.

But the developers say it’s too soon to know whether they have the seven votes needed to pass the TIF on a second go-round.

“I believe they’re listening and we’re making headway,” says Strain, who, with Leblanc, owns the surface parking lot on which the 146-room hotel would be built as well as an equity interest in the project. “We’ve gotten tremendously positive feedback once people understand. … But I think the question for the council is the question for Baton Rouge: Do we want to be a progressive city?”

Since last month’s 5-4 vote by the council to reject the TIF, the project’s developers have been on something of a re-education campaign, trying to explain to council members about the TIF they are seeking. At a proposed 2 cents, it would be lower than the Hilton Capitol Center’s TIF, which is 8 cents, or Hotel Indigo’s and The Watermark’s, both of which were set at 6 cents. It would also generate an estimated $800,000 in taxes for the city.

They have also shared new data about the hotel submarket in which they believe the Courtyard Marriott would directly compete. The data suggests the market in that particular sector is strong. Revpar, or revenue per available room, is up nearly 11% year to date over 2014 to $82.30. That’s an important metric and is 50% higher than the revpar for the entire Capital Region hotel market. Average daily rates in the submarket are also up nearly 4% to $118.58, while occupancy rates have risen 6.7 percentage points to 69.4%.

It’s not clear when the TIF might find its way back on a Metro Council agenda, though Windsor Aughtry Principal Bill Fayssoux predicts it will be in the “very near future.”

What is certain is that if the measure fails a second time, the project is dead.

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—Stephanie Riegel

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