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Cohn's actions may border on the juvenile, but I think his complaints are justified. He has been making his concerns about a third hotel known to the city since at least 1993 -- to no avail.
For all his public bluster, in person Cohn is pretty reasonable and thoughtful.
He says city staff has chided him, saying he's afraid of a little competition, that his hotel's not up to it. Cohn says he's thought about that a lot.
"I'm pretty sure I'm not afraid of competition," he says. "But there is a type of competition that I am afraid of. And I know that because yesterday, I wrote it down, because I was trying to figure out if I was afraid of competition, so I made a list of why I'm afraid of competition."
He scoops the last of his hamburger and egg into his mouth and consults his notes.
"I'm afraid of a hotel where the developers and owners have a very small or no equity stake whatsoever, because if you have a very small or no equity stake, you don't act in a truly competitive sort of a way.
". . . I'm more concerned about a hotel that has an ongoing guarantee from the city. If the city has 60, 70, 100 million dollars' worth of guarantees out there, which kind of rise and fall with the performance of the Marriott, which the city happens to control through its contributions to the convention visitors bureau, what kind of direction are they going to give to the convention visitors bureau, as to how to influence business? Do you really think the business is going to be fairly apportioned or treated equally?
"I do not. I think the city will use its influence to direct the business to places where it has its investment. If you don't believe it, look at the cones outside the [city-owned parking] garages [directing traffic into those facilities]. You'll be able to see how it works. You won't be able to see it with the Marriott, but I will feel exactly the same as those parking-lot owners."
Cohn is also concerned about the next step the city will probably take: expansion of Phoenix Civic Plaza. He points to at least one report commissioned by the city that states a third major hotel in downtown Phoenix will not be viable without such expansion -- a claim Cohn's been making for years.
But now that a third hotel -- and likely a fourth, the Embassy Suites -- is in the works, can the city deliver?
"They are essentially asking me to bet the future viability of this hotel on their ability to deliver civic plaza expansion. I think I'm afraid to do that. So that's what I'm afraid of, and in those respects, I am afraid of competition. As far as anybody that comes in on a level playing field . . . I think we're prepared to go head to head with those people."
As an example, Cohn points to the Holiday Inn Express that went up recently near the Arizona Center. He never protested that hotel.
In fact, Cohn hasn't protested much in his career, as far as I can tell. I asked him, have you ever done this before?
"You mean, taking on the world, so to speak? Noooo. I'm a lover, not a fighter, you know.
"I never wanted to take on the city," he says, sighing -- somewhat dramatically, I'll admit. "It isn't my nature to want to fight with these guys. In the best of cases, if I win, what do I get out of this? Status quo? What kind of fight is that? People that win, they're after big bucks or something like that. I don't get big bucks if I win."
But, Cohn continues, "Either I do it, or it doesn't get done. So I've been doing it. On the one hand, it's not a battle I'd want to take on. And on the second hand, now that I've taken it on, I have every intention of winning. I'm not going to take it on and lose. That also is not my style. As you maybe can tell, I'm fairly sincere and dedicated to my battle here, and I intend to prevail."
Contact Amy Silverman at 602-229-8443 or at her online address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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