Target 8 Investigation: City of Columbia Bets on Tiger Hotel Success

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COLUMBIA - For the past two years, Tiger Hotel owner Glyn Laverick has been pouring his time and money into restoring the Tiger Hotel. But it's not just his funds he's tapping. In fact, the City of Columbia is helping fund Laverick's newest project at the Tiger Hotel.

In 2009, the city granted Laverick and the Tiger Hotel nearly $1.785 million in tax increment financing (TIF), basically a plan to forgo paying some taxes. But the help is contingent on the hotel finishing constructing this spring.

The TIF was a crucial step in Laverick's dream of spending millions of dollars to resurrect the Tiger Hotel into a four-star boutique.

"I take projects that no one else wants to do. No one else wanted to do the Tiger. No one else had the skillset to really put this together and create something out of nothing," Laverick said.

In 2008, the city froze the Tiger Hotel's property and sales taxes. The TIF project began in 2009. In the Tiger Hotel's case, when the hotel's value and therefore its property taxes go up, it gets the increase refunded. When sales taxes revenues go up, the hotel gets to keep half the additional money. The city and county get the rest.

"We don't receive any money whatsoever unless the project is complete," said Laverick. "We haven't received a penny from the city."

Deputy City Manager Tony St. Romaine said the Tiger Hotel renovation is catalytic for Columbia. But some city leaders were at first skeptical of the project.

In a March 2011 city council meeting, Councilman Daryl Dudley admitted he was hesitant in approving the TIF. The minutes say, "There had been bad publicity surrounding Mr. Laverick and many of his constituents were recommending the city not approve it."

But that night Dudley and his colleagues approved the TIF with a unanimous vote.

St. Romaine said Laverick's history of failed projects did give him cause for concern but added, "Obviously we did our due diligence to make sure of some of the rumors in terms of previous investments by this developer that might have gone south. We didn't find that to be true at all."

Now, two years after the city risked investing its faith and finance in the restoration, the project is nearing completion, with Laverick claiming 39 of the 62 rooms renovated. Laverick said every room will be ready in December, three months ahead of the March deadline to get the TIF.

And as for Laverick, he said he feels a personal attachment to the project and calls Columbia his new home.

"This is a long-term project for me. I see it as something that I don't have an end date on. I see it as something that I want to hold onto," Laverick said.

If the Tiger Hotel doesn't complete renovations by the March deadline, the city does not have to give them any TIF money. St. Romaine says in that case Laverick could apply for an extension.