When the Tiger Hotel opened in 1928, it was an upscale downtown hot spot where visitors could crawl under the covers and call it an evening.
As early as this fall, owner John Ott said construction will begin to restore the Tiger back into a downtown draw — a historical boutique-style hotel he says could grease the wheels for further downtown development and catalyze economic progress. But the restoration depends on getting the money to make it happen.
“It’s an interesting and fruitful idea, and I think we could use more hotel rooms downtown,” Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala said. “But following the rules of historic preservation can be very expensive.”
After meeting with Ott’s team a few times, City Manager Bill Watkins said both he and the people at the Tiger have a better idea of just how much money would be needed and how it could be raised.
According to a presentation before Monday’s City Council meeting, a gap of about $2.5 million separates what developers can pay to renovate the Tiger from how much the projects would actually cost.
Watkins said developers have come up with a few ways to close that gap.
“They’re looking for the city to cooperate in two ways,” Watkins said. “First, they need the city’s help in providing some parking. They also want help through tax abatement or channeling tax revenues.”
One new idea includes taking Columbia’s 4 percent hotel and motel tax and allowing the Tiger to apply that money to renovation. Normally, the tax would go to the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Another possibility previously put on the table is tax abatement. There are several forms of tax abatement, all of which take some of the sales or property tax collected in a designated area and apply it back to people willing to develop those areas. Depending on the type of tax abatement used, arrangements can last up to 25 years.
Skala, a former Planning and Zoning Commission member, said any plan that relies on sales tax can be risky.
“There’s been a bit of a downturn economically,” he said. “Sales tax is off $300 or $400,000 (from the last fiscal year), and it continues to be a little bit depressed.”
Ott says he has been asked to put together a funding proposal for the city council. Until then, it’s unclear how — or if — Columbia will ally itself financially with the Tiger.
“My read from the city council is that they’re receptive to some kind of public participation package or incentive package,” Watkins said. “I didn’t hear much reception to the hotel-motel tax abatement.”
Meanwhile, Ott said he’s moving forward with the technical plans and, if he ultimately obtains some kind of tax abatement or funding, hopes to finish construction as early as fall 2008.
“These projects take time to do them right,” Ott said. “The sooner planning and financing is together, the sooner we’ll have something of value available to the public.”