Thursday, March 20, 2008

Morris Downplays Expectations of Naming Rights Confrontation

At Thursday's meeting of the Public Relations, Marketing, & Hospitality Committee of the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority (LCCCA), Executive Director Art Morris said that he and member R.B. Campbell will be participating in a meeting with Penn Square Partners next week over the issue of naming rights.

But Mr. Morris downplayed the idea that the meeting will involve renegotiation of the controversial provisions which award half of the proceeds from the sale of naming rights to Penn Square Partners, the developer of the Marriott Hotel.

"It is not a negotiation of any kind. It's simply a sit-down to talk about how we got to where we are," Morris said.

He added, "I am not sure that we will even be able to get to any naming rights arrangement even if we want to because of the very short window at this point for us ordering things like signs for rooms and for the facility itself and so the chances of arriving at any kind of naming rights agreement arrangement, in my mind, is very low."

"There may have been some confusion. If there's been any and I'm at fault for that, I regret that, but there's been no attempt – it's simply an attempt to sit down and chat."

He added that the talks will also involve a provision involving the 50/50 sharing of "air rights" over the Hotel tower.

Pressed by a NewsLanc reporter following the meeting as to the purpose of the proposed meeting, Morris refused to acknowledge that it has anything to do with the questions that have been raised publicly about the propriety of the said provisions, insisting repeatedly that the meeting is only for "fact finding."

"Why are you fact-finding?" the reporter asked. "Isn't it because you acknowledge potential improprieties?" Morris would not elaborate.

R.B Campbell subsequently told the reporter that, while it is primarily a fact-finding mission, it does have to do with the questions that have been raised publicly about the propriety of the current contracts. The intent, Campbell explained, is to bring the current members of the board up to speed on contracts which were negotiated before most of them took were appointed.

Earlier in the meeting, NewsLanc Publisher Robert E. Field had asked the committee to address four matters of profound concern: contracts ensuring the sharing of 50% of the proceeds of naming rights with Penn Square Partners, the sharing of 50% of future state grants with Penn Square Partners, abnormally low commissions from concessions sales, and the gifting of the right of first offer with respect to naming rights to S. Dale High himself.

Committee Chair Kevin Fry responded that he would raise the issues at the full board meeting next week.

It was also announced at Thursday's committee meeting that 10 bookings, reflecting $150,600 in rental revenue, have been achieved to date for the Convention Center in 2009. The target for 2009 is 58 bookings and $506,077 of revenue from rentals.

Asked by committee chair Kevin Fry whether he is happy with the booking pace, Josh Nowak of Interstate Hotels & Resorts said that he is encouraged by the numbers so far.