Ribbon Cutting of new Omni Barton Creek Resort a study in self-congratulatory, anti-environmental celebration

As a member of the media, I was invited to the ribbon cutting and grand re-opening of the completely overhauled Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa in Austin, Texas. As a journalist who frequently covers tourism & hospitality, including hotel openings and news, events like this are pretty much straightforward, non-controversial, even fun events.

Today’s ceremony at the Omni, however, made my blood boil.

Why? Because from the outset, the men involved not only flaunted their anti-environmentalist viewpoints and practices in rebuilding this resort, they actually complained heartily about being challenged on ecological concerns at any step in the process, and openly mocked the City of Austin, its progressive attitude, and basically anyone who has an interest in being environmentally responsible.

It began when Robert Rowling, the chairman of TRT Holdings, Inc. which is the owner of Omni Hotels & Resorts, took the podium. After a few brief, innocuous remarks about being a native Texan and the beauty of the Hill Country and features of the new Omni Barton Creek Resort, he launched into a wholly unexpected diatribe about the tree-huggers of Austin.

Complaining about how every time the Omni team wanted to cut down a tree for their golf course, the City of Austin would have to send someone out to check things over and okay it (for “every single tree,” he emphasized), Rowling then proceeded to direct scorn towards Austin and its concern for this environmentally sensitive area.

“If the rest of the state adopts the politics of the city of Austin, this great state will be over,” Rowling said.

He went on to thank and congratulate Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who sat a few feet away waiting for his turn at the podium, for helping them fight off basic stopgap oversight procedures that are in place so that developers like this don’t just raze whatever they want in the name of their building plans. Rowling praised Abbott for having their back in helping to pass legislation to support their precious golf course, no matter what trees (or tree-huggers) might stand in their way.

I was flabbergasted.

No, that’s putting it mildly. I have never been at an event like this and heard such flagrant disrespect for basic environmental protocol and concerns. I mean, of course it’s no surprise that Governor Abbott and anyone who thinks like him has these anti-environmental opinions — but to express them so vehemently and uncaringly in a public forum, where guests of the hotel were passing to and fro, and in a room full of journalists, was a bold move.

I was literally sick to my stomach at the exhibit of self-congratulatory white men bitching about how many trees they weren’t allowed to cut down to build their precious golf course, and making fun of the city of Austin for watchdogging that. In fact, my whole body was twitching.

But I seemed to be the only person in the room having that reaction; the hotel lobby of a couple hundred people was full of laughter at Rowling’s and Abbott’s mockery, and clapping at their ultimate victory.

Governor Abbott took the microphone next, echoing Rowling’s sentiments. But then, Abbott took an inexplicable and bizarre turn. He invoked Davy Crockett.

Yes, you heard me right. ABBOTT INVOKED DAVY CROCKETT.

He talked about how good ole Davy would have just loved the resort, almost as if he were conjuring up the very endorsement of Davy himself. By that point, I honestly had no idea what was going on any more.

Davy…Davy Crockett!

Yes, I’m sure that the “King of the Wild Frontier,” as Crockett was known, would have given his whole-hearted seal of approval to this undertaking. The American folk hero and frontiersman who opposed Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act and spent his entire legislative career fighting for the rights of impoverished settlers who he felt were in danger of losing title to their land due to the state’s complicated system of grants — I’m sure he would be on board with this grand scale of luxury, trees and other infringements upon the planet be damned.

What made this entire display all the more befuddling and outrageous to me is the fact that most hotels today go out of their way to be more sustainable and incorporate eco-friendly practices. Obviously, some of this is “greenwashing” and jumping on a trend bandwagon—but at least they make an effort, and as someone who covers the hotel and hospitality industry regularly I can tell you that a great many of them go to lengths to build into and around nature and their surrounding environments. To work with the planet instead of against it. Truly, as with many things in Texas (and the country) these days, it was as if these good-old-boys doing all this figurative back-slapping were not only hearkening back to decades in the past, but were damn proud of it, too.

On the tour of the property post-ribbon cutting, an Omni representative was very proud to tell me all about the astroturf that the resort put in instead of actual real grass.

If you’d like a little more info about the man behind Omni Hotels, according to Polluter Watch his other company, Tana Exploration, was one of many companies that received environmental-impact-study waivers from the Interior Department’s Mineral Management Services for Gulf of Mexico drilling projects — after BP’s Deepwater Horizon platform exploded in April, 2010. In 2006, Tana was fined $165,000 after a leak resulted when safety valves were improperly bypassed.

Texas Monthly says, “When Bob Rowling makes the news, there’s typically a conservative cause somewhere in the story. Last year, reports placed him and his company, TRT Holdings, among the top givers to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads PAC, to the tune of $6 million.” He’s also a longtime donor to Rick Perry.

A shattered pane of glass in the pool area…perhaps another disgruntled person besides me?

So, my friends, take of this what you will. I, for one, plan to never stay at an Omni Hotel again, due simply to their owner’s flagrant disrespect of any environmental concerns whatsoever—more so, his flat-out condescension of any person or entity who would dare to give a modicum of oversight to protect our planet from the very kind of development that he would obviously rather just be allowed to do with as he pleases, with no hindrances whatsoever.

As I drove away from the Omni, I prayed to Saint RBG hanging from my rearview mirror to give me strength.

Writer, yoga chick, world nomad, art fanatic, dog lover, amateur gourmet and wanna-be super hero living in the awesome town of Austin.

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