Trenton’s only hotel will no longer be affiliated with and branded as part of the Marriott chain as of next year. The Board of Directors of the city-owned Lafayette Yard Development Corporation (LYDC) has been seeking another national chain to slap their logo, and brand image, on the taxpayer-owned inn and conference facility.
It’s not been an easy effort. This week, the Board met to hear a proposal from representatives from the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), pushing their Holiday Inn brand as the best choice for Lafayette Yard. Board chair Cleve Christie is quoted in Erin Duffy’s article for the Trenton Times as saying there will be more presentations in the next few months from other companies.
Today I won’t comment on the IHG proposal, the Holiday Inn brand, or LYDC’s sorry state. I just would like to draw attention to the following passage in Ms. Duffy’s article:
The Holiday Inn brand was first discussed as a possible successor to Marriott several months ago, but would have to win over several Trenton officials. They have expressed concerns that the brand does not convey the upscale image wanted for the city’s only downtown hotel. [Emphasis mine. - KM]
This hotel was conceived and undertaken during the previous administration of Doug Palmer as an effort to create and foster an “upscale image” for Trenton as a whole, kick-start the city’s comatose private economy and boost employment for Trenton’s citizens.
This was during an era – it seems so long ago, doesn’t it? – when several other civic projects were constructed with the same objectives. Waterfront Park, the Sun Bank (né Sovereign Bank) Arena, the aborted Manex development, and the Hotel. All were prestige efforts, making more sense as “Image” projects than they did as commercially viable enterprises.
The Hotel, in particular, has clearly failed in its objectives. Not only did the hotel fail to ignite much new development in the neighborhood around it, it has also failed to make any money for the city. Its occupancy rate, hovering around 50 percent, has meant it hasn’t been able to pay all of its expenses let alone cover debt service for the $15 Million in city-taxpayer-backed bonds. Because of the condition of the hotel’s finances, upkeep of the place has deteriorated to the point that IHG’s rep the other day estimated it “would need an estimated $4 million makeover to comply with Holiday Inn standards and the more modern design the hotel group introduced in 2007.” The article left unsaid whether Holiday Inn would invest that $4 Million itself, or whether they’d expect LYDC to pony up. Finances aside, our Board is mightily concerned with such things as an “upscale image,” “quality” and “reputation.”
These are nice things, to be sure, but not very realistic to expect at this point in time. For this hotel, and the city in which it sits.
Trenton’s image at the close of 2012 is anything but “upscale.” That’s the reality of a town with an epidemic of violent crime; thousands of delapidated and abandoned city-owned structures; and high unemployment paired with low educational levels among its residents. A “quality” hotel chain with a great “reputation” is not going to do much to remedy any of this, but we still seek the veneer of “an upscale image” which attracts us to bright shiny things like hotels and arenas. The bright promise of these things has never been delivered, and in the case of the hotel, the massive overhang of outstanding bond liabilities will likely lead to our downfall.
Ditto for the Current Indicted, and now Arraigned Occupant of Trenton’s Mayor’s Office. Throughout his Administration he’s been more preoccupied with the trappings of bright shiny things that help to give the city – and, in their reflection, him – a more “upscale image” than the place is entitled to.
That’s why we end up with things like commemorative bronze busts; gala Heritage Days; parades; $17,000 signs; State of the City Addresses with pomp and circumstance; and all the Photo Opportunities and Press Releases featuring the CIAO.
Now that the Occupant is looking at a February court date on multiple Federal charges of extortion and bribery, I think this entire City is looking to Re-Brand as soon as possible. It’s time to start thinking and planning for the post-Occupant era, and time to start constructing a more realistic self-image that isn’t as “upscale” as we delude ourselves to have right now.
We need to Re-Brand Trenton as a town that knows it has problems, but has heart. Re-Brand our town as a town that knows it has to protect its people and property before it can welcome new citizens and businesses. Re-brand the population as containing more citizens intent on working together to save this city than gangsters willing to trash it and all who live here in pursuit of dollars earned through drugs and murder. Re-brand the city as a place with limited means but an honest and competent government.
That’s a tall order, of course, but he first step in this process we can undertake, is to lose the worn-out and disgraced “Mayor Tony F. Mack®” brand as fast as damned possible!!