We have good and bad news from the hospitality front.

First, the good news:
Hotel occupancy figures in three Northern Colorado cities were all up in October compared to the previous October, according to the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association.

The rate in Estes Park came in at 55.7 percent compared to 52 percent in October 2010. In Fort Collins, occupancy increased from 58.2 percent to 63.4 percent, and in Loveland, the rate rose from 63.7 percent to 70.2 percent.

Better yet, this trend isn't unique to our part of the state.

After two very crummy years, the occupancy rate statewide increased from 61 percent in October 2010 to 63.5 percent this October.

The hospitality industry, in short, appears to be turning the corner.

Now here's the bad news:
The Fort Collins Downtown Development Authority is once more trying to lure a hotel developer to Old Town. The DDA would like to see a 180-room hotel with ballroom space.

There's nothing objectionable to that per se - except that the DDA would like taxpayers to help support the project.
Building a downtown hotel makes sense under the right circumstances. But using public dollars to do so makes little to no sense.

To its credit, the City Council has offered nothing more than a green light for the DDA to renew its effort.

We all should wish the DDA the best of luck. It's easy to imagine that a well-appointed, full-service hotel in the heart of downtown would offer a great place to conduct business, meet with customers, have a nice meal.

But in giving its OK, the council smartly withheld support of any sort of city financing for a hotel.

This question doesn't exactly fit into the debate over the proper role of government, but it's our view that, in most cases, providing financing support for the construction of a privately owned hotel would fall outside the realm.

Government already has a role to play in so many areas of our lives including national defense, road maintenance, education and the health and wellbeing of our poor and aged. But, generally speaking, getting into the real estate speculation game is better reserved for companies willing and able to take the risk, not government entities with an already-long list of obligations.

Yes, there are instances where government can help in this sort of thing. For example, Denver's bonding power was put to use in building the Hyatt Regency. That hotel, however, served as an anchor to a convention center, helping bring more convention business to Denver, which, in turn, helped fill the Hyatt.

At the moment, we happen to lack a convention center.

There's a question of fairness in all this, too.
If you were the owner of the Hilton Fort Collins or any other hotel in the vicinity, how you would feel if the city helped pay to bring a new competitor to the market?
Hotels are just now beginning to see an improvement in their occupancy rates. But they still have a long way to go.
It's fine if one of the national hotel chains or one of their franchisees wants to build a downtown hotel. But if the only way to get this hotel built is through loan guarantees by the city or years of special tax breaks, then it shouldn't be built, especially at a time when the economy is still so fragile.