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

July 21st, 2009
Springtown developer pulls request

San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz, left, Councilmember Pam Couch, center, and Councilmember John Thomaides, right, at Tuesday night’s San Marcos City Council meeting. Staff photo.

By BILL PETERSON
Executive Editor

The developers attempting to redevelop Springtown Center into an entertainment venue pulled their application Tuesday afternoon, hours before the San Marcos City Council was to consider an incentive package led by a $3.9 million loan.

Before executive session even started Tuesday night, the city council voted, 4-2, to table the Springtown incentive item on its agenda.

Springtown Mall co-General Partner John Lewis said he and his partners, which include Lamy-Springfield Mall, Ltd., will be back “soon” with a new proposal.

Lewis didn’t say Tuesday specifically what satisfied or dissatisfied him and his partners about the proposal in place Tuesday night, but he indicated that he would like to work out an arrangement to mollify downtown business interests that opposed the project. In addition, Lewis said, economic concerns entered the picture.

“The economics of it are just so tough in this environment,” Lewis said. “We don’t want to chase a deal so bad that we catch it and, long term, we have a bad deal.”

Thus, the council didn’t even consider a proposal forwarded by Economic Development San Marcos, the city’s economic development board. Under the proposal, the city would have loaned the Springtown developers $3.9 million over six years at a maximum interest rate of six percent. From 2011 through 2016, the city would have rebated 50 percent of the project’s generated city sales tax above present Springtown levels. That money would have defrayed the developer’s interest payments and provided up to $600,000 for architectural enhancements. EDSM did not say publicly if it recommended approval or denial.

In addition to Lewis, a half-dozen citizens spoke to council about the potential deal. Among those to speak in opposition were David Newman and Daniel McCarthy, each of whom ran against Mayor Susan Narvaiz in the November 2008 election. Also speaking in opposition was Lisa Marie Coppoletta, who ran unsuccessfully against Councilmember Chris Jones in November 2008 and now is running for the council seat occupied by Pam Couch.

Most of those in opposition questioned if it makes sense for the city to offer incentives for minimum wage employment, such as would be provided by bars and restaurants in the proposed redevelopment. Others were taken aback by the deal’s persistence.

Said Newman, “The voters and citizens of San Marcos, who have indeed had experience in dealing with an unresponsive city council in the past, take great alarm in watching this dead issue rise again from the ashes, like a ‘Terminator’ film.”

The matter has, indeed, been on the lips of virtually all engaged San Marcians for all of July. On June 30, EDSM forwarded a proposal to city council by which the city would lend the developers $5 million, interest free, to be paid in 23 years. Following a public uproar, the city council voted unanimously against the incentives on July 7. Almost as quickly, the new proposal went through EDSM last week before the developers pulled their application Tuesday and council followed by tabling the item indefinitely.

Juan Miguel Arredondo, the student body president at San Marcos High School, said the project would fill a need by providing venues appropriate for teenagers, who lack such options in San Marcos and must go to Austin or San Antonio for laser tag and other diversions.

“I would love to be able to spend my money here,” Arredondo said. “But are there really activities?”

Lewis argued that his project would fill such gaps, actually drive business downtown by attracting visitors to the city and make San Marcos more appealing to business prospects.

“I still think that what we’re planning would enhance downtown,” Lewis said. “Anything that enhances the quality of life would be good for all of San Marcos … I know there’s a lot of fear and concern from the downtown folks that it would hurt them, but we see it to the contrary … If we’re scared to death of everything and won’t bring anything in because it will take a dollar out of our pocket, we’re going to be resigned to not bringing the employers in who would make the pie bigger.”

Word that the developers pulled their application began spreading around town soon after it happened Tuesday. Brian Montgomery, president of the Downtown Association, spoke with a project planner later in the afternoon about the developers’ intentions.

Said Montgomery, “To my understanding, they are re-addressing this project with their bankers to see if it can be packaged in a different manner, but also potentially being able to work with our downtown people to see if we can create some synergies between downtown and Springtown, which really was what should have happened in the first place.”

The city council then convened, as usual, at 6 p.m. Generally, the council takes roll call and goes right into executive session. This time, however, the council took votes to table the Springtown issue and one other item right before executive session, before the public shows up for its meetings.

Councilmember Kim Porterfield motioned to table Springtown, with a second from Couch. The motion passed, 4-2, with Councilmembers John Thomaides and Gaylord Bose in opposition, while Councilmember Chris Jones was absent.

Asked after the meeting why the council voted to table before executive session, Narvaiz suggested that the move wasn’t necessarily unusual. She said it’s typical for the staff to learn that an item would need to be pulled on the day of the meeting, adding that she found out late in the afternoon that the Springtown developers pulled their request.

“It just really depends,” she said.

However, Thomaides came out of the executive session furious about the quick motion to table. He said he wanted to take a vote Tuesday night and deny the incentives. The motion to table kept the issue from even coming up during the regular meeting, except for the citizens’ comments.

“That’s the problem with a motion to table,” Thomaides said. “It stops all discussion … (With a motion to) approve or deny, we could have had a discussion that the public was expecting from us.”

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0 thoughts on “Springtown developer pulls request

  1. From a public standpoint, Mr. Thomaides is correct. It’s the taxpayer’s money on the line, so transparency and open discussion are a reasonable expectation.

    Regardless, with two unsuccessful proposals under their belt, maybe John Lewis and his buddies will come back with a financially reasonable proposal.

  2. This is just awesome. Now the property can either sit empty and decaying for years or the University can buy it and turn it into a parking lot. Congrats, naysayers…..you got your way. Just don’t go complaining down the road when the place turns into a public blight. Oh, and if you can find it in your hearts to remember the businesses stuck there now, please do so.

  3. Our taxpayer money should not be given away to a project that lowers average household income. And, the city already has other plans and projects approved but “sitting on the shelf” awaiting real (monetary) action.

    The natural course (at Springtown) would be that the current property owner will run the numbers and get tired of spending money on a regular basis (upkeep, insurance, taxes, management, etc), and they will step up to market their property and get it sold to somebody who will develop it into something fresh.

    The scare tactics of proponents for the recent handout proposals (“it will sit empty for years, it will become a blight, nobody else will want to do anything with it for a long time”) should not compel us to give taxpayer money in order to lower the average household monthly income in our community.

  4. By tabling it the mayor and various counsel members get to avoid showing if the supported or opposed the deal. Basically, protecting themselves from the voters for working another bad development deal for San Marcos. I hope folks remember this on voting day.

    Next up, raising our taxes for ACC (who should have gone to jail for wide-spread voter fraud)

  5. I’m curious, would Radio Shack and Sylvan Learning Center have had a spot in the proposed “entertainment venue”?

  6. Wouldn’t Springtown be a natural spot for all the county offices? The county could sell at a loss the land they bought and still be ahead of the game.

  7. I don’t think we want property with such high visibility to the interstate being something mundane and unattractive like government offices, Phil.

    Because of its traffic, I-35 plays an important role in how our town is perceived by passers-by and there is already enough “ugly” stuff along there as it is (look almost anywhere between 123 and Wonder World on the south side).

    I would rather see 35 lined with places that would make people want to exit and stop than government offices that people would pass right by without a second thought.

  8. Dano what do you think the passers by will see at I35 and Wonderworld? County will build a 3-4 story office and others. Phil I think that would be a great idea! Although Mr. Carson wouldn’t like it. So..since Mr. Carson was a backer for this mayor what do you think? It is what it is.

  9. Ted I think all leases are up this year. At least that is what the owner of the flower shop told me.

  10. Come on, guys. The developer pulled their request, there was nothing to vote on one way or another. Good grief, give them just a little bit of slack, would you!

    Also eddieQ, the Mayor and COSM have nothing to do with where the county decides to put their office.

  11. Last I heard the proposed county facility was over $115 million. With that kind of money you could buy Springtown, remodel it to look like anything you want, add square footage if needed (the current buildings are approx 216,000 sq ft not including Furr’s) and still have money left over. There’s plenty of parking and a person could park directly in front of whatever county office they needed to visit. Also, Springtown is closer the attorneys and title companies that do business with the county making it less likely that they would vacate the CBD.

    My only regret is that it would take the property off the tax rolls.

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