by SEAN BATURA
The city of San Marcos and Hays County have laid the groundwork to redevelop the former Hays County Justice Center and pay for other big-ticket capital projects anticipated downtown, including a planned commuter rail station.
Last month, the San Marcos City Council voted to capture some of the tax revenue from rising downtown property values and apply it to keeping the old grocery store-turned-hall of justice from becoming an abandoned eyesore at the entrance to the central business district. The funding mechanism they are employing to do this, a tax increment reinvestment zone, was approved in November by the Hays County Commissioners Court.
According to San Marcos city staff, the primary plan is for the county to find a deep-pocketed “master developer” who will demolish the 39,546 square-foot justice center and build a mixed-use center of up to five stories, with residential on the upper floors and retail on the ground floor. The concepts being batted around include civic spaces such as a plaza.
“Getting people living in the downtown area would be really nice,” said Matthew Lewis, the city’s Development Services division director. “It would be a really good infill and redevelopment idea.”
The tax increment reinvestment zone covers a 244-acre area stretching from Interstate 35 to the southern boundary of the Texas State University campus, the same area designated in April last year as the SmartCode zone. The TIRZ will collect 70 percent of city and county property tax revenue generated by valuation increases in the TIRZ since 2011. The TIRZ will expire in 2016 unless it is reactivated between now and then.
The TIRZ is expected to collect about $331,019 by 2017. If the master vision of a major downtown development on the old HEB property does not materialize, the funding will go toward other projects downtown such as the building of a commuter rail stop adjacent to the justice center, sidewalks, signs, bicycle racks, and stormwater detention ponds, among others.
The project’s backers include Downtown Association president Scott Gregson, who owns interest in the San Marcos Mercury, and the San Marcos Area Board of Realtors.
“A downtown site of that size could host an employer or help bring a significant amount of the most-needed use to downtown, which is residential,” said Monica McNabb, who co-chairs the Board of Realtors’ governmental affairs committee.
Last year, downtown property values increased seven percent, driven by recent investment such as Gregson’s Texas Music Theater, which opened last spring. Before last year’s appraisal uptick the value of all property in the TIRZ zone was $105,712,363.
The justice center is one of four downtown properties that the county is trying to unload after it moved most its office to the a new 232,000 square-foot building off Wonder World Drive.Email | Print