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This is an illustration of the proposed Waterloo Convention Center at Sullivan Brothers Plaza.

Courtesy illustration

WATERLOO — A developer preparing to take over the Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center is once again firing back at accusations leveled by a city councilman.

Waterloo City Council members voted 4-2 Monday to reject Councilman Tom Lind’s request to hire a “special counsel” to investigate agreements approved this summer with Leslie Hospitality Co. of Omaha, Neb.

Councilman Steve Schmitt joined Lind in voting for the measure while Bruce Jacobs abstained due to a conflict of interest through his employment.

The vote came after Edwin Leslie said he would welcome a fair investigation of the agreements, which call for the city to turn over the convention center and tax incentives in return for his company, doing business as LK Holdings, investing $20 million to renovate the building and adjoining Ramada Hotel.

But Leslie took exception with claims Lind made last week that one of Leslie’s Omaha projects failed and it appeared Leslie engaged in “pay for play” by endorsing several council members running for election in November with a Facebook advertisement.

“That is beyond libel, that is beyond slander,” Leslie said. “You’re accusing me of buying council votes. You’re accusing me of buying the vote of someone who wasn’t even an elected official at the time.”

Lind, who also clashed with the developer in August, called for the investigation into the development agreements after learning Leslie Hospitality was sued by a business partner involved in a $40 million hotel and convention center project. That dispute was settled confidentially out of court in November.

“What’s not factual is your statement to this council, on TV, recorded, that says it was a failed business venture,” Leslie said. “The hotel is open today. The renovations that I agreed to make were completed. The funds we agreed to spend, were spent.”

Community Planning and Development Director Noel Anderson read through a long list of provisions from the approved development agreements that call for the convention center ownership to revert to the city and for the tax incentives earmarked for the project to be withheld if LK Holdings fails to perform as required.

Schmitt was the only council member to ask questions or offer comments during the debate. He asked why Leslie was able to use the convention center Facebook page to endorse council candidates.

Leslie said the Facebook post — it endorsed Mayor Quentin Hart, Councilmen Tom Powers and Pat Morrissey and Sharon Juon, who defeated Lind in the Nov. 7 election — was made on a page he owns, paid for by him personally and was done without the candidates’ knowledge.

“As I stated before, all I want is fairness,” Leslie said. “If you’re upset by the fact that I personally decided to buy a political ad to support your opponent, that’s politics Mr. Lind. … My right as an individual is to support who I feel is the best choice for office.”

Lind made no comments when the issue was discussed. Later in the meeting, he said he wished his colleagues were as interested in the convention center as they were the liquor license they had just voted to deny for a different business.

LK Holdings has already hired staff and has been making improvements to the convention center through an early access agreement. The transfer of the center’s ownership to LK Holdings has been delayed while the city clears up title issues on its part.

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Waterloo City Reporter

Waterloo city reporter for the Courier

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