Planned UNT convention center, hotel shut down by city

Cameron Coates / Intern Writer

The Denton City Council hit the kill switch Tuesday evening on the $25 million convention center and $60 million hotel project on UNT leased land near Apogee Stadium.

Council members agreed at the Tuesday meeting not to grant the $75,000 necessary for design work on the project by tabling the motion, which would indicate to the developer that they’re not willing to go forward. The project has been in its feasibility period  since December of last year. Growing frustration over lending and downsizing led to the unsatisfied City Council on display.

“My feeling is, we can do better,” council member Greg Johnson said. “What I’m 100 percent convinced of is we don’t have the buy-in from the community.”

The idea to build a convention center and hotel on 13 acres of UNT land was first brought to the city in 2011. Investors found the location to be ideal for revenue. The proposed convention center was supposed to be 97,000 square feet and three stories tall, but was shrunk to 69,750 square feet in order to stay at a $25 million budget. After modifications, the project was still $3.9 million in the red. The lack of support from Denton Independent School District and the county also proved to be obstacles because of the tax breaks both could have brought.

Denton, UNT and O’Reilly Development Company LLC were the three partners on this deal. Back in December 2013, system chancellor Lee Jackson touted the obvious benefits to UNT.

“We have a lot of meetings now that are pretty far away from our home,” Jackson said. “Every time we have to ask students, faculty or supporters to get in the cars or buses and go five or 10 miles away, we feel like, as a university, we’ve lost an opportunity to change that situation. It’s an economic impact for Denton, and for us, it’s an expansion of our mission as a full-service university.”

The city has dumped $500,000 into this project and council member Kevin Roden wanted to know if the city has a back up plan going forward.

City Manager George Campbell finished a long winded answer with, “the short answer is, no, we have not explored an option B,” and added that the project was the best he’s seen in more than 40 years of work.

Next Tuesday may be a back-to-the-drawing-board moment for Denton, and possibly UNT, but Mayor Chris Watts sees the merit in what the city council went through.

“Yes, we have spent half a million dollars,” Watts said. “I will write it down. I will guarantee you the money we spent on that as we get involved in another transaction, we will save more than half a million dollars based on the experience we had here. Something else will spring from the ashes.”

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