LETTERS: Casino not in hotel pitch

Significant new information was revealed about rezoning for a hotel only because of questions posed by the attending public.

I appreciate the need for a four-star hotel in Penticton. However, at the recent public hearing to rezone Penticton’s Queen’s Park public lands to include hotel use, significant new information was revealed only because of questions posed by the attending public.

That information should have been made available well in advance.

The economic development office’s April 15 council report stated that “the city would retain control of the site,” yet new information at the hearing confirmed the option for the developer to purchase the land. The hastily added option to sell public land, in a buyer’s market and slow economy, hardly represents good business judgement. Additionally, proposals for alternate sites will now also be considered. What alternate sites? Other city-owned lands?

Penticton city council, mostly comprised of self-declared successful business people, showed no concern for the fact that the City is undertaking an expression of interest (EOI) for the hotel with no defined starting point for negotiation on a potential transaction involving public land.  EOI respondents may also now propose to operate some (or all) of our publicly owned facilities on the site. Interested parties are asked to “describe the terms of use” for those, and to submit proposals which may include a 99-year lease, a purchase proposal or “other financial arrangements.”

Risks and benefits of lease versus taxation options were not presented. Related risk includes the question of who makes any lease payments should the hotel fall upon hard times. Would that responsibility fall to taxpayers? How would a lease with outstanding payments affect a future sale of the hotel? And, would the “rights” to operate city facilities accompany a future sale of the hotel to another party? Who is guarding the public interest in this process? Further, the new bylaw should not have been approved until a firm financial commitment to replace the baseball diamond was in place. Only a few verbal assurances were pitched to the baseball-field users in the audience. What’s the big rush to approve if there is no apparent “deal” pending?

And why did the mayor wait until question period (after the hearing concluded and the vote was passed) to reveal his exploratory meeting re: a casino on public lands? At both the April 20 council meeting and the May 13 public hearing, probing questions regarding the public interest on that and other related questions should have been asked by council. Unfortunately, that never happened.

Loraine Stephanson