JW leadership, over a difference of only $2000, looks likely to play hardball with the city of San Angelo and move their summer conventions 193 miles away to Lubbock, Texas.
Does anyone from Texas have any insight as to what may be going on here?
The innkeepers of San Angeleno are upset that they will probably lose business every July. The JW's are upset that the city of San Angelo will not continue to subsidize their event.
The city only wants 10% of the normal rent. They want to treat JW's like other groups, and cap the discount at 90%. Why is the JW leadership being so stubborn? Can't they scrape up $2000? Or is this something they're being directed to do by WTS headquarters?
Religious gathering may go to Lubbock
By Paul A. Anthony (Contact)
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
A new city policy regulating discounts given to large conventions could lead to the loss of one of San Angelo's biggest events - although exactly why the Jehovah's Witnesses may be leaving the city remains in dispute.
Throughout the spring and summer, the council has worked with the city's Civic Events Department to craft a more consistent policy for conventions and other events using city facilities, a shift from previous years when such policy was made usually on an informal, case-by-case basis.
One caveat, however, has done away with the practice of renting for free the McNease Convention Center to a convention that brings in an overwhelming number of attendees - capping the rental discount at 90 percent.
Paying 10 percent of the usual rental fee was too much for the Jehovah's Witnesses, whose annual July convention is the city's fourth-largest by economic impact, pouring $2.36 million into the city's coffers, according to the San Angelo Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"This was done pretty much as a handshake deal," said Bob Banskter Sr., manager of the San Angelo Days Inn and Rodeway Inn, but, "Things have changed."
A local Jehovah's Witnesses representative did not return a phone message left for comment Monday.
The religious group told local hoteliers the city had taken a hard line on its new policy, refusing to provide the building for free, and as a result, the Witnesses convention would move to Lubbock, Banskter said.
Ultimately, he said, the difference in the sides came to $2,000.
"Basically because of $2,000 and contractual language, (the city) couldn't make it happen," Banskter said. "There's not one hotelier that isn't upset (about) the lack of willingness to negotiate from the city."
The problem, however, is that's largely not what Jehovah's Witnesses representatives told the city or the Convention and Visitors Bureau, which is tasked with negotiating rates and other incentives to help attract groups to San Angelo.
"We were told they were happy" in San Angelo immediately after their convention this July, said Pamela Miller, vice president of the CVB. "We didn't know" there was dissatisfaction until hotel owners called to relay the group's statement that it would not return in 2009.
As the CVB and the Jehovah's Witnesses began talking, a number of concerns cropped up, including provisions for next year's convention that called for an armed security guard. The group said it did not want armed security at what it considers a religious function, but then would not sign a waiver absolving the city of responsibility, Miller said.
In fact, the group directly criticized the hotels in which its members stayed, saying the quality was subpar, Miller said, and that the rates reflected renovations that had not yet been made to the rooms it had booked.
Even whether the group has turned down San Angelo for Lubbock remains uncertain. Banskter and other hoteliers say San Angelo has lost the convention, possibly for good. Miller and city officials say nothing official has happened yet.
"We're trying to put together our packages for 2010," Miller said. "We still haven't gotten a definite 'no' for 2009."
Even if the council's policy is a principal source of the Jehovah's Witnesses' dissatisfaction, officials say City Hall and its Civic Events Department should not be blamed for enforcing a council policy that the Witnesses themselves could ask the council to waive for their convention. Essentially, city staffers are tasked with carrying out council prerogatives, said Parks and Recreation Director Carl White, while the CVB works as the negotiating agent.
"If you have something unique and different, you have the ability to go before the council and request something different" from what the policy allows, said Assistant City Manager Rick Weise. "Any event has that right."
Regardless of who is to blame, both sides agree that losing the convention would be a big blow for the city, and that it's in everyone's interests to retain it, either next year or in the future.
"We're trying to work with the hoteliers and the city," Miller said. "We're just trying to do what we can do to bring it back."