Texas Parks and Wildlife Education Director Steve Hall addresses the Hays County Parks and Open Space Advisory Board and an audience last week. Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
A riverfront park and a wetlands area once again have been included in a proposed recreational project on the Hillert Tract in eastern San Marcos.
A nonprofit conservation organization, Texas Shooting Sports Complex (TxSSC), proposes that the county purchase the 563-acre Hillert Tract and devote 350 acres of it to a shooting sports complex. TxSSC proposes to devote the remaining acreage to a wetlands area and a public park with 2,000 feet fronting the San Marcos River.
A month ago, TxSSC President Stephen Marlow said his group supported the county buying only the 350-acre portion for the shooting sports complex.
Hillert Tract owners offered the 350-acre portion to the county for $3.5 million, said Hays County Parks and Open Space Advisory Board (POSAB) member Melinda Mallea. The pot of unreserved parks bond money has shrunk during the last few months, perhaps contributing to the second offer of reduced acreage.
Commissioners allocated more than $5 million of the parks bond funds in August, bringing the remaining balance from the county’s 2007 parks bond to about $3.4 million and virtually eliminating all hope of obtaining the full $5.5 million before another parks bond election. The owners of the Hillert Tract still offer the full 563 acres to the county for $5.5 million.
“We’re wanting them (Hays County Commissioners) to go ahead and make an offer on the whole piece of property,” Marlow said. “The idea is, hey, this owner is willing to negotiate.”
Marlow said the final scope of the project is dependent on the outcome of land negotiations between the commissioners court and the Hillert Tract owners, though he reiterated that his group is promoting the full 563 acres for purchase by the county.
TxSSC members were on hand at the POSAB meeting last week to make a presentation and ask for the remainder of the parks and open space funds. The commissioners court tasked POSAB with scoring and ranking all parks and open space projects. Based on POSAB’s scoring criteria, the riverfront park and the wetlands area will fetch higher scores for TxSSC’s project. TxSSC officials say they do not have other sources of funding for the Hillert Tract.
During the POSAB meeting last week, a board member asked TxSSC representatives what will happen if the county cannot come up with enough money to buy the full 563 acres of the Hillert Tract.
“That would be a decision that the commissioners would have to determine in their negotiations with the landowners,” Marlow replied. “They could buy part, they could buy all. In this market, they could make an offer. My crystal ball’s kind of foggy on that.”
TxSSC representatives said the Hillert Tract’s owners may be willing to accept a much lower price than $5.5 million.
Anderson and Robert Mayo, the owners of the Hillert Tract, said they have worked for the past four years to bring all the entitlements to the tract that would allow them to make it a high-density home development with a riverfront park. In August, Anderson said he and Mayo are intrigued with TxSSC’s proposal because they would like to preserve the land while getting a good return on their investment.
At an Aug. 18 meeting of the Hays County Commissioners Court, residents said a public park on the Hillert Tract may become a nuisance to them. In response to their concerns, Mayo said, “If the (public) park isn’t put there, there’s going to be like a 1,500-home development that’s going to have a park down there on the river.”
TxSSC proposes to use grants and donations to pay for the construction, operation, and maintenance of the shooting sports complex once the county secures land for the project. TxSSC anticipates receiving a Texas Parks and Wildlife grant of $1.5 million over three years to build the ranges and a hunter education facility. TxSSC proposes that the county own all equipment, buildings, and other improvements on the land, and collect all revenue generated from range usage fees.
Among the 12 entities proposing projects for parks and open space bond funding, TxSSC is the only one requesting all of the remaining parks bond funds.
“Just doing simple math, if there’s $3.4 million available, you can do seven projects right now,” said POSAB member Ron Riggins to TxSSC members. “I just did the math. Seven projects out of the 12 for $3.4 million, and you’re asking for all of it. I’m not saying I’ve scored anything, but I’m just saying by doing simple math, we can do seven out of the 12 projects for $3.4 million, so why is yours more important than the other seven?”
Immediately after Riggins’ question, one proponent of TxSSC’s project spoke up from the audience.
“How much money is going to come back to the county from those other seven (projects)?” the audience member asked.
Responding to Riggins, TxSSC representatives said their project is, in a sense, three projects due to the inclusion of the wetlands, shooting ranges, and riverfront park.
Other projects in the running for parks bond funds incorporate different recreational elements. Swimberley, for example, proposes to be self-sufficient in regards to maintenance and operations, though not a revenue-generator for the county besides, possibly, being a water recreation attraction for out-of-county visitors. TxSSC members said their project is unique among the others seeking parks bond funds because it has the potential to generate money for the county from usage fees and the re-selling of lead from used bullets.
Said State Representative-Elect Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs), who attended the POSAB meeting last week, “I did want to come here tonight and show my support for the shooting sports complex. I think it’s a fantastic opportunity to have a positive economic in the area here in San Marcos and Hays County — and really Central Texas. We’ve seen other shooting sports complexes, like in Kerrville, bring millions of dollars into their local economy, and I would love to see that come here. It’s a great thing when you can keep your money local, so these guys don’t have to go to North Austin (to shoot). They can keep their money here locally. And it’s an even better thing when we can get other people to bring their money here to Hays County. So I just wanted to show up tonight and show my support.”
TxSSC Vice President J.B Kolodzey told POSAB members that the shooting sports complex is conservatively projected to return $50,000 to the county in its first year of operation, before full build-out. Kolodzey said the facility will return about an additional 15 percent more each year thereafter until full build-out. According to TxSSC officials, the shooting sports complex will generate approximately $400,000 net revenue after full build-out, which could take three to four years.
Kolodzey said that within about three years, the shooting sports complex can host “at least regional, if not state events,” which he said will attract “anywhere from 800 to 1,500 people over a three- to four-day period.”
Kolodzey said each out-of-county visitor can be expected to inject an average of $150 per day into the local economy.
“We (Texas Parks and Wildlife) are obviously interested in this (shooting sports complex project) as well,” Texas Parks and Wildlife Education Director Steve Hall said at last week’s POSAB meeting. “This is part of our mission in terms of both hunter safety, hunter education, but also the shooting sports, for people you have in the back of the room here that enjoy those positive uses of firearms and sporting arms. We’re in it is a partner. We’ve got grant funding and we’re anxious to proceed with an application process, the grant process. None of that can happen without the land. So, my interest is just watching the process. When you all have the land, then we get involved with the construction and the development costs.”
The proposed shooting sports complex would accommodate activities associated with archery, air rifle and pistol, bench rest shooting, shotgun, skeet, trap, 5 stand, sporting clays, handgun, rifle, small bore, and muzzleloaders.
The two other entities proposing projects located in San Marcos include the Trust for Public Land and Friends of Craddock Park.
Friends of Craddock Park proposes 135.89 acres of primarily green space at the corner of RR 12 and Craddock Avenue. The group asks for bond funds totaling $2,281,900. The project consists of aquifer recharge land suitable for hiking trails and related activities, and includes possible habitat suitable for the Golden Cheeked Warbler, an endangered bird included in the county’s regional habitat conservation plan. The plan has yet to be approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Trust for Public Land sponsors the expansion of the Purgatory Creek natural area project, which involves adding 601 acres to the 463-acre Purgatory Park green space. Trust for Public Land is asking for $950,000 in parks and open space bond funds for the project. The project consists of aquifer recharge land suitable for hiking trails and related activities, and includes possible warbler habitat.
(Editor’s Note: The above has been corrected. The person originally identified above as Stephen Sundquist now is correctly identified as Ron Riggins.)Email | Print