The San Marcos City Council in deliberations Tuesday night about possible incentives for Springtown Center. Photo by Andy Sevilla.
By BILL PETERSON
A San Marcos City Council meeting fraught with twists and turns Tuesday night produced one especially knotty strand, which the council emphatically lopped off as Tuesday turned to Wednesday.
Shortly after midnight, following a 90-minute executive session, the council voted unanimously to deny a set of incentive proposals that would facilitate a redevelopment of the largely vacated Springtown Shopping Center with an Alamo Draft House as the main attraction.
The council cast its lopsided verdict despite Mayor Susan Narvaiz’ desire early in the evening to table the matter in the face of public outcry and potential new parameters for a deal that emerged in recent days. Austin developers Lamy-Springfield Mall, Ltd., were so certain the matter would be tabled that they sent only one representative, attorney Talley Williams, to track the meeting.
Many specifics about the incentives denied by the council are unclear, although one of the proposals called for a $5 million loan to the developer, payable in 23 years. Beyond that, the council denied whatever other incentives were on the table. City officials said after the vote that the developers are free to go back through the process.
Narvaiz and councilmembers declined to reveal the terms under consideration, citing the package as a matter of executive session.
Last week, Economic Development San Marcos (EDSM), the city’s economic development board, put forth a recommendation, which has not been disclosed, concerning the $5 million interest-free loan. The developers would have made no payments for three years, then $250,000 payments per year for the next 20 years.
The revelation late last week that the council was about to consider the proposal triggered a Fourth of July weekend explosion of public discourse in San Marcos. Downtown business owners complained that such an incentive for out-of-town bar businesses indicated a lack of commitment to the downtown master plan passed last July. Others implored that incentives should be used only to stimulate living-wage employment in the city.
The saga also raised questions about the extent to which councilmembers are permitted to meet with citizens under the Texas Open Meeting Act, engendering further concerns about the city government’s transparency in conducting the negotiations. Two councilmembers declined to meet last week with the Downtown Association, citing concerns about a “rolling quorum.”
Narvaiz, frustrated at the end of a six-hour city council meeting early Wednesday morning, said the city “is more transparent than most,” pointing to a string of public meetings about the Springtown matter during the last several months. However, added Narvaiz, the nature of the negotiations with Springtown developers, including late-arriving information early this week, combined with the privileged nature of executive session matters and recent interpretations of the open meetings act to create an atmosphere in which citizens could receive only partial accounts of the proposal.
“When misinformation is given to a few people, public frenzy disrupts the process. It happened with the hotel deal,” Narvaiz said, alluding the relocation of the city’s conference center connected with an Embassy Suites after plans originally called for placing that facility at Spring Lake.
Following Tuesday’s vote, Williams asked the council what exactly had been denied. Narviaz referred Williams EDSM Executive Director Amy Madison and city staff for details.
Ten citizens, many of them downtown business owners, spoke about the Springtown proposal during the citizens comment period before council took up any deliberations on the matter. Nine of the speakers expressed opposition, while the remaining speaker was non-committal.
“I have seen Springtown come back again and again and again,” downtown attorney Kyle Maysel told the council, arguing against the fear that Springtown would be blighted without the incentive. Later, Maysel stuck his tongue in his cheek, saying, “I’d like $5 million. Can I have it? Twenty years? No interest? I promise I’ll do lots of good things with it.”
After citizens spoke, Narvaiz told the city council and a packed chamber that new information about the development, which arrived late Monday afternoon, compelled her to ask that the matter be tabled. Narvaiz said she hoped EDSM could take up the matter at a meeting next week, then offer a new recommendation in time for a July 21 city council meeting.
“We don’t have a full recommendation, because it has changed,” Narvaiz told councilmembers.
Councilmember Pam Couch accommodated Narvaiz with a motion to table, but her motion died for lack of a second.
Councilmember John Thomaides said the economic development board has labored endlessly over the Springtown proposal, adding that the council would accomplish no useful purpose by delaying the matter.
“The economic development board came to us with a recommendation,” Thomaides said. “Now, all of a sudden, when everyone shows up with pitchforks and torches, it’s not good enough?”
Councilmember Gaylord Bose spoke most directly against the proposals in play, saying, “Them guys are a hell of a good horse traders. Walk away. If they really want to work with us, they will. We’re playing right into their game (by continuing to negotiate).”
After the council worked through the remainder of the agenda, it went into executive session to discuss the EDSM recommendation and the new information with Madison. When the council reconvened, Thomaides motioned to deny all the proposed incentives, including those implied by the late-breaking information.
As usual, the council held a one-hour executive session at the meeting’s 6 p.m. start. Though the Springtown matter was on the executive session agenda, council didn’t take it up at that point. But council was forced back into executive session after councilmembers all said they wanted to be updated about the proposal. Even Couch, who originally motioned to table, ended up saying she wanted an update.Email | Print