We’re not surprised, but no less disappointed, that the controversy over the future of the Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center has resulted in a lawsuit.
In fact, we are heartsick.
LK Waterloo filed a lawsuit May 22 in U.S. District Court in Cedar Rapids against the city and Watermark Hotel Equities, which owns the downtown Ramada hotel.
LK Waterloo, headed by Edwin Leslie of Omaha, Neb., claims it suffered financial damages because the city and Watermark breached deals for LK Waterloo to take over the downtown convention complex.
The Waterloo City Council voted 4-0 on July 17, 2017, to approve an agreement for LK Waterloo’s planned $20 million renovation of the convention center and hotel. The city would donate the convention center, grants and tax incentives to LK Waterloo subject to the developer getting financing and completing the work.
The relationship, which sounded promising on its face, soured. Leslie butted heads with former Councilman Tom Lind and current Councilman Bruce Jacobs, who both questioned the developer’s ability to finance the project and cited a failed hotel venture in Omaha that ended in litigation.
“It was represented to LK Waterloo that the Waterloo City Council was behind the project,” LK Waterloo claimed in court filings. “Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.
“Furthermore, certain Waterloo City Council members disparaged LK Waterloo and its principals by circulating false information,” the suit states.
LK Waterloo does not specify an exact dollar amount it seeks but indicated the firm had spent more than $850,000 before the project disintegrated last October.
As recently as September, Leslie said his company was still committed to the project, and Mayor Quentin Hart expressed hope the matter could be resolved.
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However, a proposal which ostensibly offered so much promise is now in the courts, only enriching the lawyers litigating it and not our community.
We can’t help but think there had to have been another way to resolve this in the best interests of everyone — most importantly, our city.
There’s an awful lot of “he said, she said,” in this sad tale. Did the city look a gift horse in the mouth? Was the developer not property vetted? Did petty self interests get in the way? Or, does the truth lie somewhere in the midst of all of these questions?
Sadly, those questions are now for the lawyers to argue and the courts to decide.
We hope this suit comes to a conclusion promptly so the city can get down to the business of revitalizing our convention center and hotel. We need a thriving convention center, not one limping along with litigation hanging over its head.
Many good things are happening in and around downtown — the reconstruction of U.S. Highway 63, the Grand Crossing residential complex, the Courtyard by Marriott on the Cedar Valley TechWorks site, the Cedar Valley SportsPlex, the Van G. Miller Adult Learning Center, the John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum, Singlespeed Brewing Co. opening in the renovated former Wonder Bread bakery building and now, it appears, a long-dreamed-of marina may take shape.
Also, the 16-year-old dream of a residential-retail complex along the Cedar River also is becoming reality with the construction of the Art Block between the Waterloo Center for the Arts and the RiverLoop Amphitheatre.
A flagging hotel and convention center amid all this sticks out like a bad tooth. We owe it to the memory of the Sullivan brothers, we owe it to those who have invested in downtown and we owe it to ourselves to revitalize the convention center and hotel — if not with this developer, then another.
Also, the Sullivan family should be informed of and involved in any revitalization plans. They were not initially with the Leslie proposal — and should have been.