As long as there is a Republican majority in Harrisburg, don’t expect a casino in downtown Lancaster (which is surrounded by one of the most ultra-conservative counties in all of North America). If the governor and state legislature are willing to balance the state budget by depriving our children and grandchildren of desperately-needed funding for education, why would they do ANYTHING to bail out a project which has a proven record of losing massive amounts of taxpayer dollars?
The downtown Lancaster hotel and convention center are indeed “too big to fail”, with nearly $50 million taxpayer dollars committed to the “private” hotel and well over $100 million already spent on the convention center (not counting unfunded municipal costs for both). All three current Lancaster County Commissioners have promised to not raise the “hotel tax” under any conditions, but the sad truth is that at some point they may have no alternative. I am convinced that rather than allowing the “integrated facility” to close, they will raise taxes.
There is yet another factor: the Penn Square Partners keep the financial performance of their “private” hotel a closely-guarded secret, in spite of the fact that Lancaster City owns the building they occupy, and taxpayers own all of the meeting rooms the hotel receives revenue from, the hotel kitchen, half of the hotel lobby, the facade of the Watt and Shand building, the surrounding sidewalks, and even the bridge connecting the hotel lobby to the parking garage.
The problem is, if the hotel does not meet its earnings expectations, the Penn Square Partners would most likely make additional demands on Lancaster City taxpayers, who own the hotel building and (thanks to former mayor Charlie Smithgall) guarantee the hotel’s financing. Under the threat of closing the Marriott Hotel, the mayor and city council would have little recourse other than to cave in to whatever demands are made by the Penn Square Partners.