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Hotel pulls interest in city

City says ‘negative connotations’ of article caused chain to recant

Staff writer

Cobblestone Inn and Suites has recanted its interest in building a hotel in Marion.

“The developer himself called me and let me know that they are no longer interested in building in Marion due to an article that was written last week,” economic development director Terry Jones said.

Calls to confirm this as the reason the hotel pulled its interest were made to the hotel chain, developer BriMark Builders, and market researcher Core Distinction Group. They went unanswered and unreturned.

The article, headlined “Officials defend hotel study,” raised questions about a $7,000 feasibility study conducted by Lisa Pennau of Core Distinction Group and commissioned by the city. A similar Core Distinction study in Chanute was criticized by a hotel operator there.

These concerns were relayed to city officials, who stood by the study as reported in the article.

Mayor Todd Heitschmidt implied the article had factual errors by asking economic development director Terry Jones if BriMark would make efforts “to rebut any of the inaccuracies.” Jones said they weren’t — they were told by Cobblestone to “just get out.”

When asked after the meeting, Heitschmidt could not cite any specific errors in the story’s portrayal of either the hotel firm, the feasibility study company, or the city. He also said he had discouraged Pennau from writing a letter to the editor.

Jones said he was contacted by both BriMark and Core Distinction. He said Pennau made claims of inaccurate reporting, but declined to mention anything specific. The developer didn’t cite any inaccuracies in the story, he said.

The newspaper hasn’t received any calls or letters regarding inaccurate information in the story.

“I think the developer was more concerned with the negative connotations,” Jones said.

Despite the firm pulling its interest, Jones said the feasibility study was still useful.

A list of nearby attractions in the study features blurbs that were copied and pasted from multiple Internet websites, including the city’s own website.

“That’s fine,” Jones said. “It’s put together in a professional document. Obviously I could have done that, but that’s time and stuff. And that’s such a small part of the study.”

Jones said a list of benefits and challenges for the city’s economy also would prove useful.

In the meeting, Jones countered the notion that few studies are returned with negative results by saying the company charges half their fee up front and does half the research for a study before deciding whether to recommend a hotel for the community. The company then offers to finish the study for the other half of the fee or stop the study for no additional charge.

“That’s what happened with us,” Jones said. “They came back and said, ‘Hey, we’re gonna recommend 31 bedrooms,’ so I said, ‘OK. Let’s continue.’ Then we submitted the second payment.”

It wasn’t specified what information was gathered before and after the second payment was made.

Pennau, who did not return a call to the newspaper for last week’s story, was in town for one day conducting individual interviews, Jones said.

Heitschmidt was among those interviewed, and he said in the study that there was a need for quality lodging, but that Hillsboro’s hotel struggled with its occupancy rate.

Heitschmidt voiced displeasure with the newspaper for writing an article about the study “before the council even had a chance to review and study it.” Holter pointed out that councilors received the study before their June 8 meeting. Holter granted a request to the newspaper by sending it electronically June 15.

Heitschmidt said the city should meet with attorney Susan Robson to tighten the flow of information to the public, while complying with open meetings and open records laws.

A full transcript of the council’s discussion regarding the newspaper article can be found in Opinion.

Last modified June 24, 2015

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