Finley: Anti-business City Council hurts Detroit
Downtown Detroit’s redevelopment is charging ahead at a furious pace. But one big potential roadblock is emerging: The Detroit City Council.
The council is showing anti-business tendencies that risk encumbering the comeback with red tape and giving investors second thoughts about the climate here.
Operators of the Crowne Plaza Hotel (Pontchartrain) next to Cobo Center have been waiting for approval to build a new tower that would add nearly 500 much-needed rooms to this market, along with a nine-story parking deck.
City departments have signed off on the $134 million plan. But the council refused to give the go-ahead last week, citing concerns about the quality of service at the existing hotel.
Specifically, members accused the Crowne Plaza of treating guests rudely and having a bed bug infestation.
A hotel lives and dies on hospitality and cleanliness. The operators say the rooms have been inspected for bed bugs and cleared, and that they’ve addressed customer service.
If they haven’t, the market will determine the hotel’s fate.
I suspect that withholding permits has little to do with bed bugs and everything to do with putting the bite on the theCrowne Plaza to cave to a union organizing drive.
Unite Here! Local 24, a hospitality workers union, has been trying to organize the hotel for years, without success.
Councilwoman Janee’ Ayers worked on the unionization drive before coming to council, and is now the lead voice in delaying approval of the new tower.
A city council ought not be serving as the de facto business agent for a labor union. Nor should it be giving credence to unfounded slurs against an important local business.
What members should be doing is helping make Detroit as attractive as possible to investment dollars. Projects like the Crowne Plaza expansion mean jobs for Detroiters.
They also draw more visitors to the city, and the cash that comes with them.
Council is stalling this major new hotel even though the NCAA cited a lack of rooms in denying the city’s bid for the Final Four.
By the way, the Crowne Plaza is asking nothing of the city except for building permits. No tax breaks or incentives. It’ll take 18 months to complete the project, but since council is on the beach for the month of August, approval isn’t possible now until mid-September.
Council also weighed in last week on the now-settled janitor’s union contract dispute, urging downtown businesses to pay the $15 an hour the workers demanded and ultimately got.
Government should be a neutral party in such negotiations, lest potential employers get the impression they won’t get a fair shake if they settle in Detroit. Or that the city’s policymakers will drive up the cost of operating here.
There’s reason to worry. Activists are pushing the council to reopen the Community Benefits Agreement to squeeze even more out of the developers who are revitalizing the city.
They want to expand the guarantee that Detroiters make up 51 percent of the payroll on construction projects. Builders who don’t meet that mandate already face stiff fines, even though the city acknowledges it is an impossible requirement to meet due to the lack of skilled workers in Detroit.
Burdening investors with excessive costs and unreasonable demands, delaying projects at the behest of unions, presenting a hostile face to business — Detroit’s been there before. It’s why the city needed rebuilding in the first place.
Catch “The Nolan Finley Show” weekdays 7-9 a.m. on 910 AM Superstation.