|For more than 20 years the city has had a goal to build a large hotel with a conference center. Finally, with the help of Google, that goal might be realized.
The city now has an exclusive right to negotiate with Google for what will likely be a 200-room hotel with a 30,000-square-foot conference center. The proposal would be for nine acres on the city-owned "Charleston East site." As part of the agreement, Google would build the hotel and hire an operator.
For years, city leaders have said a hotel and conference center could be a good gathering place for large events, such as weddings and conferences. After much discussion, an effort failed to bring in a hotel operator to the same site in 2001.
The site is an open lot just east of the so-called Googleplex, on the corner of Shoreline Boulevard and Charleston Road, and has been used for parking at Shoreline Amphitheatre. The other half of the 18-acre site will soon be a 310,000-square-foot Google office building, for which the company is paying the city $1.7 million a year in a land lease. For the hotel site, on the southern half of the lot, Google could pay the city another $4 million if projections made in 2006 are still accurate.
When then-council member Greg Perry opposed the hotel idea last year, he questioned its viability, saying there has been no interest from hotel operators since 2001. But today, as the city sees business development advancing at a rapid pace, the previously risky endeavor is ready to happen, said council member Matt Pear.
"Now you have the business momentum down there to make the hotel a reality," Pear said. "And business conditions have changed for hotels."
The project could help Google as well, said city manager Kevin Duggan.
"What they've expressed to us is they have a major investment in that area," Duggan said. "They have a large number of people who visit their site. They realize there is a real advantage to this."
Pear said the deal would be a "win-win" for everybody.
Two years ago, the southern four acres of the Charleston East site had been zoned for "cultural" and "educational" uses. As part of his opposition to the hotel, Perry called for the city to look into possibilities for that area involving a park, museum or ball fields.
All aspects of the deal are still subject to council approval. If it goes through, Google would own the hotel building and bring in an operator. As part of its negotiations with Google, the city wants to make sure a "four star" hotel is the result, Duggan said.
Explaining the failed 2001 effort, Duggan said the travel and hotel business took a hit after 9/11, causing hotel operators to pull their bids. Operators were interested only if the city would agree to build the estimated $6 million to $16 million building, but Duggan said the city has no interest in owning a hotel.
Pear also said that in 2001 at least one operator pulled out because of a clause in the agreement to encourage a labor union, pushed by then-council member Sally Lieber.
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