By the San Marcos Local News editorial board
Now that a private company has purchased the abandoned Target store building at Springtown Center, while Lamy-Springtown lost its portions of Springtown Center in foreclosure, it’s a good time to look at where to go next in dealing with the largely abandoned shopping center.
First, we’re pleased that a private company, 1180 Thorpe, Ltd., bought the Target parcel. Last summer, when the city was just about to give Lamy-Springtown a $5 million, interest-free loan for Springtown re-development, we argued that Springtown would best be addressed by private enterprise, supposing that Dayton Hudson, which owns Target stores nationwide, would unload the Springtown Target building out of a reluctance to pay the holding costs (property taxes, insurance, security, etc.) for a property that was generating no revenue. Later, some city officials began to argue that, no, the building would sit there empty without city intervention, because the big box retailers retain their abandoned properties to keep them out of the hands of competitors. As it turned out, Dayton Hudson did sell the building to a private company.
So, 1180 Thorpe, the partnership, owns the Target building, and Thrivent Financial for Lutherans owns the properties held by Lamy-Springtown before the latter went into foreclosure. We suspect that Thrivent Financial, being a lending company and not a developer, will try to move its Springtown property from its books. Thus, the ownership situation at Springtown remains in flux.
We do not believe it is simply a coincidence that John Lewis, who was in the original Lamy-Springtown group, is one of the principals in the new partnership. Nor are we at all discouraged that the other managing partner is Edward S. Butler, the son of the late former Austin mayor and business mastermind Roy Butler. We don’t suppose the younger Butler comes to the table in financial distress. In time, we wouldn’t be surprised if the entire Springtown complex winds up with this new group.
We also suspect that, inevitably, City Hall will attempt to make yet another incentive deal to re-develop the Springtown property as the ownership question is clarified. The Springtown property remains a prime piece of real estate that can be put to a good many uses. Therefore, we won’t dismiss the feasibility of city incentives out of hand, realizing that some incentives create a public good that’s worth the investment, and some don’t.
We applaud San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz for her many meetings in the community to discuss the matter of Springtown incentives in February and March. After public opposition stifled a pair of Springtown incentive proposals last summer, the mayor apparently understands that the public is awake, aware of potential misuse of public funds and, therefore, must be on board for any such proposal to succeed.
However, we are a bit concerned about remarks the mayor made recently in the Texas State student newspaper, the University Star, for they indicate that she doesn’t quite understand how the opposition to Springtown incentives is motivated. Going forward, that misunderstanding could do with clarification.
For example, the mayor made the following remark: “The argument of those against Springtown proposals are that we can’t afford it. But they should have at least been honest, they were afraid of competition. Instead they misinformed the public, which was their intent. They pulled a major deal down. In the end, small businesses were the ones who got hurt.”
In fact, it appears, the opposite has occurred. With no public funding, the ashes of Springtown are alive and well, resurrected by private investment, rather than the hand of government bail-out funding. None of the small businesses that “got hurt” got any more hurt than when the city subsidized Springtown’s major tenants to move away in the first place. More to the point, many small business would have been galled, and likely hurt, had the Springtown proposals passed the council.
As the mayor’s remark suggests a commitment to honesty, we assume she is being honest and she honestly believes what she said. Thus, the mayor’s remark is not disingenuous. It is merely wrong.
To say that business owners are afraid of competition is like saying that fish are afraid of water. The business world is an arena in which competition is a way of life. To say that business owners are afraid of competition is tantamount to saying that business owners are afraid of business.
What business owners object to is not the challenge of competition, but the marketplace injustice of government-subsidized competition. And the correct way to characterize the private proprietor’s attitude about government subsidies for competition is not “afraid,” but “outraged.” If you’re in business and the city government wishes to court your competition from out of town and subsidize it, then you’ve got a legitimate complaint against the city government. The city attempted to subsidize an entertainment center — restaurants and bars. Owners of existing restaurants and bars were affronted, and they said so. They, along with others who have larger policy reasons for objecting to city subsidies for restaurants and bars, exercised their rights as citizens and stopped the city from making a poor deal. And they did not misinform anybody.
We don’t believe the mayor is attempting to misinform anybody, either. We believe she honestly thinks opponents of Springtown incentives are afraid of competition. But in order for us to believe that, we have to also believe that she doesn’t make distinctions, which aren’t exactly subtle, between, for example, fear and outrage, or competition and government-subsidized competition. And if the mayor doesn’t understand those distinctions, if she doesn’t grasp the opposition any better than that, then we’re going to have a real hard time getting level-headed policy out of City Hall.
Again, we’re in favor of government subsidies that deliver useful goods of which the city is otherwise short. That will vary from city to city. In San Marcos, subsidies for companies that will provide living wage employment are useful, which is why we are enthusiastic about the subsidies for Grifols.
However, we should be stingy with our use of public funds. We like city funds to be spent on streets, infrastructure, parks, living-wage employment, public safety and the like, within reason. But we’re not so desperate that we need to roll over and give away money to subsidize bars, restaurants, movie theaters, gaming arcades and anything else of that sort. Such expenditures of public funds are foolish.
Furthermore, the city is not a bank or a lender of last resort. If a private developer needs capital to move his project, that’s why banks are in business.
We don’t know what the present owners of the Springtown property have in mind. But here’s what we have in mind: If the developers wish to take the risk and open entertainment businesses in Springtown, then we welcome them to the world of business competition and insist that the process plays out privately. The city ought to keep its mitts off of it. But if the developers have something else in mind, we’re dying to hear it.Email | Print