Dean's Side of the Story (Or Step Into His Shoes For Just a Second): Disclaimer: My thoughts on the Hotel Bentley are based on personal encounters and conversations with members of local government, local business leaders, and associates and employees of Bob Dean Classic Properties. Don't read too much into this. I am not aware of any deal or offer on the hotel; I simply asked questions. (Anyone who wants to can find the e-mail addresses of the central players). In 1997, Bob Dean purchased the Hotel Bentley from an investment group in Baton Rouge. Dean, who was born and raised in Alexandria, wanted to own the hotel for sentimental reasons. His real estate portfolio includes some of the largest and most expensive commercial and residential buildings in Louisiana, and the Bentley was just another purchase. To those who have heard rumors about Mr. Dean's alleged financial troubles, visit his website for a sampling of his real estate holdings. It's very common for people who own a lot of real estate to constantly buy and sell property, and it often has little to do with their finances; it's just the way they like to play the real estate game. Mr. Dean is apparently very passionate about restoring historic property, and after he purchased the Bentley, he spent a considerable amount of money on cosmetic repairs and embellishments. Dean, like many people who invest in downtowns, was given many incentives by the government, on both the local and the federal levels. He was also encouraged by promises of convention business; he was told that the city would be increasing the number and variety of conventions. In the hotel business, you can't magically create guests; you're reliant on the city to attract visitors. The city's ability to attract conventions has a direct correlation to the profitability of your business. Dean bought the hotel in 1997, and if you recall, the city was spending a lot of money and time on downtown revitalization. We were talking a good game. There was even a downtown plan that was enacted. But soon, a new City Council was elected, and well, their practices and modus operandi are well documented already (though we could always use more information). In the words of one prominent local businessperson, "People are afraid of the Bentley because the owner must be beholden to the City Council for tax incentives in exchange of under the table kickbacks." Nowhere is this most evident than with the hotel across the street from the Bentley, the Holiday Inn. Real estate investors often have to play the political game, but there is an "Alexandria way of doing things," as it has been described to me from successful developers throughout the state. In other words, there seem to be groups or factions of people who have laid claim to certain areas of town, downtown being one of them, and if you plan on building, restoring, or developing in Alexandria, you have to be sure to include certain people in on the deal. This isn't necessarily "illegal;" most of the time, certain individuals filter their "investments" through secondary and tertiary means. But it's definitely not lucrative. It means that an historic hotel, like the Bentley, will continually struggle, because too many people somehow feel entitled to the hotel's profits. Bob Dean acted alone. He bought the hotel, and in doing so, he supplied 125 jobs to the local economy. He was an outsider. Although he is originally from Alexandria, he lives and works in Baton Rouge. When the hotel shut its doors, our immediate inclination as a community was to blame the owner and the management. But what if it's not the fault of ownership or management? What if our community and our government are to blame? What if the "Alexandria way of doing things" creates an impossible situation for people who really want to make a difference here? After all, if Mr. Dean is truly such a terrible person, why would he invest so much of his own money on the hotel? Honestly. I suspect that there is a lot to this story that will never be reported, primarily because Mr. Dean's business records are proprietary, and he has the right to keep them private. But I also feel like he's been painted unfairly. And if we're really going to get somewhere in our discussions about the future of our city and the future of our downtown, we should probably address the real reasons why it's almost impossible to run a profitable business downtown. I can't know this for sure, but I suspect that Mr. Dean's demolition request was just a political manuever. I suspect that Mr. Dean would never really consider demolition, but that it was his way of reminding our government that he owned the hotel, not them. Oh... and what of the stories about how he "raped" the hotel of its fixtures? It seems to me that he removed the fixtures most prone to vandalism (the stained glass and the chandeliers). From what I understand, any trade fixtures removed from the hotel (that is considered a part of the hotel's trade) must be returned. If you owned a hotel and you had to close it because it wasn't making any money, wouldn't it be smart to remove some of the hotel's valuable fixtures while it's vacant? One of the reasons for the one-sidedness of this whole story is that Dean doesn't talk to the press. We hear the city's side of the story, but we never hear his. And it's his right to stay silent. I have never personally met Mr. Dean, but I have a strong feeling that he could give a great testimonial on the woes of doing big business in Alexandria. What is the solution to all of this? I think Martin Johnson was right when he said our community needs unity. Number one. We also need full transparency from our government. We need a City Council who is in business for the city, not for themselves. And we need to ensure that businesses who invest in our community are not afraid of working with our government.