San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

July 8th, 2009
Council crushes Springtown incentives

The San Marcos City Council in deliberations Tuesday night about possible incentives for Springtown Center. Photo by Andy Sevilla.

Executive Editor

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.

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0 thoughts on “Council crushes Springtown incentives

  1. Jeez Couch… Have you EVER had an independent thought? Ever? Which way is the wind blowing at this very moment? WWSD… What Would Susan Do?

    Tweaking the proposal just a day before the meeting, when it was already obvious that a major controversy was brewing? That’s a pretty bush-league move for a professional firm that specializes in economic incentives.

  2. This is great news. I turned off the TV at midnight, because I thought for sure that someone had forgotten to turn the feed back on. I wanted to stay for the whole meeting, but had family in town.

    Thanks to everyone who showed up to speak.

    I do have to Sympathize with those on the other side of the issue, who weren’t represented because they thought the issue was pulled from the agenda. I’ve been there too and it is not a good feeling.

  3. I hope that this will be coupled with an even greater effort to bring careers to San Marcos and to help our existing businesses to thrive.

  4. Oh, and thanks Bill and Newstreamz for coviering this to the end. Every other story I have read ends long before Council came out of executive session. Many ended their coverage before the executive session even started.

  5. Unfortunately, there are still businesses in this complex dying a slow and painful death. If something doesn’t happen soon, those businesses will probably have to close. What about them?

  6. Bill Peterson! You are to be commended for OUTSTANDING journalism on this piece. Just the facts were presented! No bias, no slant. Just good news reporting.

    Apparently, some of the elected servants aren’t aware that when the public is monitoring their government’s activities, it isn’t called a ‘frenzy’ over things we ‘just don’t understand’. It is responsible adults keeping an eye on their elected servants. I liken it to good parenting of the government child.

    Kudos to the pitch fork and torch holders!

    Kyle Maysel, I’m with you! I’d like 5 million “redistributed” dollars, too!

    If I were the ‘redistribution’ kind, I’d redistribute the INTEREST on the idle $5 mil to down town business each year for a much needed face lift! How fast would down town become more attractive to new customers… and new business? I’d be a better socialist than the real ones.

    Truth is, a socialist government isn’t necessary to make this and other good things happen. A truly free market and a less wealthy, more limited government would keep money in the pockets of business owners (and so many others) who would then funnel that money into their desired projects. If 5 million fiat dollars are just laying around in the city coffers, they over taxed in the first place. How much MORE money do they have to fund your competition?

    The reality is, government is also a corporation – just like the developers who are working hand in hand with government to quickly over build, concentrate LOTS of people in small areas, regulate and heavily tax all human activities and basic needs, and set up NEW and PERPETUAL tax bases for, what, MORE of the same? What a GREAT working relationship the ‘few’ have with our government servants.

    Government is just another BIG BUSINESS, getting away with ‘limited liability’. Its how the servants avoid answering directly to the people.

    What’s your solution? Here’s a suggestion: Let’s un-incoroprate our city government, limit its duties and get back to a government of, for an by the people…with much shorter term limits and much more convenient methods for recall when they pull the curtain. They seem to think that transparency some of the time is acceptable.

    BTW, there’s another layer of government that is working HARD to make sure just a few succeed. Have you been watching what the COUNTY is up to lately?

  7. How about sales tax rebate to downtown businesses? That could be used for promotions, discounts to customers, improvements, etc. Or maybe the rebate could go into a general fund, for the downtown association to collectively use for whatever they believe will benefit the group the most.

    Big box stores aren’t the only ones who could use rebates.

  8. Just gotta say this — whoever designed it in the 1st place really messed up. I mean, all the store fronts should of been on other side of the parking lot facing Hopkins.

  9. Has anyone considered the fact that Springtown could almost be considered “downtown” now that everything is moving south? I’m still mad that Target and Penny’s moved (and got incentives for it). Also heard that Mamacita’s is moving south. There’s not going to be much left for us “northsiders.” (except the university… Hmmmmm?)

  10. Bellatruth,

    How could shorter terms create a better government? If you have ever worked in politics, a large part of their time is spent saving money for elections. 4 year terms at least let them get started on their duties. Any shorter and they wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything because they have to raise money. On a national level, once a poltician has won their seat they immediately have to start fundraising- as in $30,000 a day til the next election to actually be taken seriously. shows all our politicians endorsers

  11. The only real way to make government accountable is for the people to pay attention and think before they vote. Anything else is just a quickfix “solution” at best, a gimmick at worse.

  12. I agree with Bellatruth to spend part of that $5 million toward downtown. When Bose was running for re-election, that was one of the promises on the nice laminated brochure. If downtown is to become an “entertainment district” for San Marcos, better parking is definitely the priority! I don’t see why the area behind the Taco Bell and Italian Garden can’t be used as a downtown parking lot. This could be a solution for bringing more people into downtown. It would be much better than parking at the Nelson Center and avoiding the Nazi’s lurking to have someone towed for going around the corner to shop, eat, or watch a movie.

  13. Bellatruth I absolutely love your comments both about water, the county, and government in general. You see the big picture with what is going on both in the city and the county in regards to UN Agenda 21. You are my hero!

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