NEW YORK Feb 12 (Reuters) - New York City's chief financial officer said on Tuesday the city could lose $345 million because of a past sweetheart deal, uncovered during an audit, with the Marriott Marquis hotel in the heart of Times Square.
Marriott in 1998 renegotiated its lease with the city, shortening it by 40 years, reducing the rent, and giving the hotel the option to buy the property for $20 million when the lease expires in 2017.
That would enable the Marriott to buy the Times Square property for about $173 million less than the prime real estate is worth today, said New York City Comptroller John Liu, calling the deal "disgraceful", "wasteful" and "lopsided."
The city is also losing nearly $172 million in reduced rent because of the "secret" agreement, struck during former Mayor Rudy Giuliani's administration, with the city's economic development agency, Liu said.
"I don't begrudge the Marriott. They got themselves a great deal," Liu said at a press conference in front of the hotel.
Instead, Liu, a Democrat and possible mayoral candidate in November, faults the New York City Economic Development Corp.
Liu has audited the EDC before and has long said the agency wields too much power. The agency awards city funds and tax breaks to promote economic development under a nearly $1 billion contract with the city, for which it hasn't been held accountable, he said.
Liu's audit "fails to measure the significant impact the Marriott Marquis has had on the Times Square area and New York City overall," EDC spokesman Patrick Muncie said in a statement.
The hotel has provided more than 1,500 jobs and "hundreds of millions in tax dollars" and "played a critical role in the area's revitalization," it said.
A Marriott spokesperson did not return calls seeking comment on Liu's audit, which found that the Marriott hadn't kept all of its financial records for the past six years - an alleged violation of its lease agreement with the city.
Liu called on Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration to use that supposed contract breach as an opening to renegotiate the lease and make the terms more favorable to the city.
If not, the city could find a different tenant, Liu said.
The Marriott's original lease was signed in 1982, but it asked to renegotiate in 1998, Liu said. He accused the EDC of breaching a fiduciary obligation to ensure that the revised lease was in the best interest of city taxpayers.
Liu also said the Marriott owes the city $3.6 million of interest on unpaid rent.