In this morning’s Trentonian, former Mayor Doug Palmer spoke to the paper about one of his major legacies – the Lafayette Yard Hotel. The article by David Foster begins,
The man who helped bring the Marriott to Trenton says allowing the hotel to fail is like not making repairs to a weakened bridge.
Former Trenton Mayor Doug Palmer said this week that the hotel creates hundreds of jobs, generates money for the capital and is a major revitalization piece for the city along with the Sun National Bank Center and Arm & Hammer Park.
“You got to fix it,” Palmer said of the only city hotel that opened in 2002. [Emphasis mine - KM]
I am glad that Mayor Palmer had the fortitude to speak on the record about the success, or lack of it, of the Lafayette Yard. That’s more than I can say for the Indicted Current Occupant of the Trenton Mayor’s Office. There were no quotes by him, and according to Mr. Foster’s article, “A spokesman for Mayor Tony Mack did not return a call for comment.” Couldn’t be bothered, I suppose. The Indicted Occupant is doing a good job lately of being entirely Invisible to the public. In his position, I might do the same.
Any way, let’s unpack Mr. Palmer’s claims a little, shall we?
1) The hotel creates hundreds of jobs - According to the hotel’s financial statements for January of this year, posted on Google thanks to Jim Carlucci, in the month of January all employees in all departments of the hotel worked a total of 9980 hours. Dividing that by 8-hour shifts over the 31 days of the month (a hotel is a 24/7 operation), you get the number of only 40 Full Time Equivalent positions, close to the number of 42 employees quoted in the financial narrative report.
So, “hundreds of jobs” claimed, versus 40 or 42 as contained in the reports. Who’s really counting? What’s a couple of hundred jobs among friends???
2) The hotel generates money for the capital - When a business loses hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and requires repeated infusion of capital and cash flow from the city and state, how is that generating money for the capital? It is, instead, a huge money vacuum.
The Hoover Hotel at Lafayette Yard, ladies and gentlemen!!!
3) The hotel is a major revitalization piece for the city - Well, I wish that were the case! Going back to the financial narrative, several specific factors are mentioned for the hotel’s lack of success: “there was no redevelopment in the immediate surrounding neighborhoods” of the hotel; Hill Wallack never moved in; Manex never moved in; The South Broad Village project “was derailed;” other downtown plans “never materialized.”
And there were major general environmental forces at work that hindered the hotel:
- “No large corporate businesses in Trenton
- “The city lacked the socio-economic diversity to realize revenues
- “Negative press – front page reporting of violence and crimes that are a deterrent for people to come into Trenton.”
So, far from being the “major revitalization piece” and major economic driver as described by Mayor Palmer, the hotel itself claims it was a failure because there was no other redevelopment going on in the City to help it succeed!
To me, this admission by the hotel management is a nail in the coffin for further expectations that the hotel might be successful in being itself an engine for prosperity for the Capital City.
The Arena has not helped revitalize its neighborhood. The ballpark has not created a renaissance at the waterfront. And the Hotel itself is waiting on development elsewhere in the City to make it successful.
Of course Doug Palmer is going to defend his hotel, his legacy, to all comers. I applaud his courage in doing so. But his emotional appeal for the place, “You got to fix it,” and his arguments, simply do not persuade.
The current estimates for renovating and upgrading the hotel hover around $4 Million. For the approximately 40 employees of the hotel, that comes to a whopping $100,000 per employee of taxpayer money required to “fix” the hotel. Not to even mention the uncounted millions in dollars already spent on the place. That’s a pretty damned expensive “fix!”
History argues against the hotel. The numbers argue against the hotel. And the absence of success in other redevelopment efforts downtown and elsewhere in the city – cited itself by the hotel as one of the major reasons for its failure – argues against it.