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

September 29th, 2009
Candidates address downtown association

San Marcos City Council Place 5 candidates Ryan Thomason, left, Shaune Maycock, center, and Lisa Marie Coppoletta, right, speak to the San Marcos Downtown Association. Brian Montgomery, president of the Downtown Association, is in the background. Photo provided to Newstreamz by Pat Murdock.

News Reporter

The San Marcos Downtown Association conducted a forum of city council candidates last week at The Tap Room hoping to gauge each contender’s commitment to the city core.

Thus, the candidates focused on downtown development, including specifics like parking, signage and exposed power lines. All the candidates, except Lisa Marie Coppoletta, overtly supported the downtown master plan.

The six candidates spoke for more than an hour in The Tap Room’s meeting room, located between The Coffee Pot and The Tap Room on the downtown square.

Councilmember John Thomaides is the only incumbent in the mix, fighting for a return to his Place 6 seat against challenges from beauty consultant Monica Garcia and retired civil servant Anita Fuller. Place 5, in which Pam Couch declined to seek re-election, pits Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commissioner Ryan Thomason against local businessman Shaune Maycock and educator Lisa Marie Coppoletta.

Candidates had three minutes for opening statements, then answered written questions submitted by the crowd of about two dozen.

Coppoletta fired the toughest shots at the present order of city business, criticizing the city council for spending more than $500,000 to help with promotion for the outlet malls.

“We’re funding to the tune of $500,000 outlet mall abatements at the expense of our downtown economy,” said Coppoletta. “The focus should be on small businesses in the core of the downtown.”

Maycock and Thomason both spoke in favor of the downtown master plan and downtown redevelopment. Maycock talked about beautification beyond the courthouse square and incentives that would bring breadwinner jobs to San Marcos.

Thomason, who grew up in San Marcos, said the city needs a return to its hometown feel of the mid-1990s. Sticking with his message that his experience on the P&Z makes him the most qualified candidate, Thomason said he already has helped to make a difference downtown.

“We are sitting in one of them right now,” Thomason said. “This room came to us about a year and a half ago. I supported the change in the land development code that made the Wine Cellar possible (at Hopkins Street and LBJ Drive).”

All three Place 6 candidates spoke in favor of the downtown master plan, which the city approved early in 2008.

Thomaides said the plan should be implemented through the establishment of tax increment programs, form-based codes and initiatives to make downtown more pedestrian friendly. Thomaides also addressed the city’s recent attempt to incentivize the re-development of Springtown Center with businesses that would compete with downtown bars and restaurants, which a peeve of many downtown business owners.

“I did lead the efforts in opposition to the proposed Springtown loan,” said Thomaides, “but I do believe that will probably come back. It’s an important issue and something we’ll probably have to deal with in the future, but what they gave us just wasn’t good enough.”

Garcia discussed development as it relates to families and incomes.

“There’s a need all over,” she said. “Part of what I want is to insure there’s an opportunity for everyone to succeed by creating sustainable growth. We are as strong as our weakest link.”

Fuller talked of implementing the downtown master plan and redeveloping San Marcos as a cultural center.

“Our downtown area is positioned to become the entertainment and culture base destination center for the greater Austin-San Antonio metropolitan area and should be developed to attract a mix of users,” Fuller said.

The evening’s amusement consisted in the following question for each candidate: If the city council were to meet on your birthday and promise to pass one piece of legislation at your pleasure, what would you choose?

After joking that she’d like a trip to Paris, Coppoletta said she’d like for San Marcos to be a Parisian-style, pedestrian-friendly city. Thomason would use excess money from projects to help fund Habitat for Humanity and local food banks. Fuller said she would like for LBJ Drive and Guadalupe Street to run two-ways downtown.

Under the influence of six years on the city council, Thomaides went for “boring but important” measures, such as allowing councilmembers to place items directly on the agenda (only the mayor can do that) and limiting the council’s executive session topics to those specifically described under the local government code.

Maycock said he would cap campaign contributions to prevent “undue influence over our city council members. Our community will grow only once. It is crucial that we get it right.”

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57 thoughts on “Candidates address downtown association

  1. Why is it always about downtown? Don’t people realize that if the rest of town doesn’t receive attention as well, no one will want to pass through it to reach downtown?

    It would be great to have a downtown area that is vibrant and attractive to visitors. But for that to happen, our downtown would have to consist of more than law offices, head shops, and bars.

    Downtown development is important, but not at the expense of letting other highly visible areas of town (Springtown for one) go ignored.

  2. “This room came to us about a year and a half ago. I supported the change in the land development code that made the Wine Cellar possible (at Hopkins Street and LBJ Drive).”

    I hate when Government officials proclaim their worth by such asinine things as changing the development code of a building. Like helping unwind the bureaucratic tape that gets in the way of Capitalism is a positive attribute to use as a campaign mantra.

  3. @Dano: Absolutely correct. The council’s obsession with downtown has puzzled me, if for no other reason than San Marcos is a tiny town. Who cares if Springtown is developed as an entertainment center when “downtown” is literally one minute away by car.

    I’m willing to bet that the great majority of people feel similarly, but the folks who have businesses downtown are organized and likely bring in enough tax revenue to keep the council at their whim. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be represented, but some common sense needs to be applied.

  4. The problem is that San Marcos isn’t a tiny town anymore. That time has passed, and we need leadership that will not only recognize but embrace that concept.

    Reading quotes like Thomason’s about how “the city needs a return to its hometown feel of the mid-1990s” makes me worry about the direction that some seem to want to take us. Moving backwards shouldn’t be a goal for San Marcos.

    We can’t be Wimberley and frankly, I don’t know why we would want to be.

  5. What kind of a city do you want to be? Round Rock? Georgetown? Waco?
    There seems to be a real formula for I-35 corridor cities. Do you want to break the mold – or be just like all the rest of them? What exactly is it that makes San Marcos a unique city?

  6. As my great ANTI-hero, Ronald Reagan, used to say, “Welll…, there you go again.” Contrary to popular belief, this “ain’t the first rodeo.” There was a Downtown Master Plan (UT-Austin) done in the ’70’s; another in the ’80’s (TAMU); and at least one plus updates in the ’90’s (citizens, P&Z, Main Street, SWT Geography and Planning, Family and Consumer Economics, and a professional outside consultant). The Plan was an integral element of the City’s Master Plan, “San Marcos Horizons.” The process for the latter, in its last version, took a couple of years, was open to the whole citizenry for review and comment, and was adopted as an ORDINANCE (i.e., binding for the City and all possible “interests.” The drive toward an agreed-upon plan began in the precise year of 1979 and came to life in 19890 with the formation of neighborhood councils and a central Neighborhood Association–a citizen “rising” at the root.

    The community (literally and figuratively) agreed on several over-arching Goals which drove the whole thing. The first and dominating one, Number One, was to “maintain the historic character and small-town ambiance of San Marcos.” Also at the top were goals to preserve the River as the heart and soul of the City. Another was to retain and develop the Downtown CBD in a way that it would preserve its historic character as the central and vital focus point of the City and Hays County.

    The rationale behind the CBD preservation, refurbishment and revitalization was the universal rule in both social science and urban planning that a thriving downtown is THE most important indicator of a healthy community, as well as a way to stop decay at the core which is THE best sign of a loss of community. Decay was just around the corner, for more and more retail stores, boutiques, theaters and pharmacies–public gathering places–were being lost, as they have been in cities worldwide, but mostly here in dollar-land.

    The tradition of the public square–the marketplace or forum–predates the Greeks (agoras) and Romans (Forum) and Meso-American civilizations (zocalos and temples). It is seen in the most primitive communities we know of, and is central to the understanding of any community that no longer speaks for itself. It is the first thing to go before general collapse. That can be seen from any western ghost town to America’s Poster Child, Detroit, and all between, including the Texas cotton town where I was born, most of the many places I have lived, and the much larger and richer, sad Texas oil town where I spent my most formative years. They no longer have a visible identity, having died from heart disease and lost their souls.

    There is no shortage of icons of urban blight and decay and waste spreading outward from the core and offering ruin, crime, poverty, violence, vandalism and despair–an economic black hole that forces its own abandonment and cancerous growth. Larger and faster are the road to wealth for a few, the role to hell for the most human spirit. (But all this is just me jabbering to myself as I, too, spoil from the inside. Others might see if they looked around more?)

    San Marcos was losing ground fast as the world changed in huge new steps. The downtown itself had passed mostly to distant and uninterested out-of-town investor/owners. The square was becoming a place of unused (and so now untaxed!!) upper-story space. There were a very few loft apartments with a growing nest of lawyers’ offices, some specialty stores, and an increasing number of vacancies that tended to be taken by local eating places and a few stores, all hoping to market to the university.

    Ere long, some building owners and restauranteurs got the idea that, given the always-obnoxious parking problem, which had worsened because of through traffic on the state thoroughfares and employee parking and Courthouse parking, along with the antiquated ’50’s “modern” colored-tin building facades and the crumbling, ancient, build-as-you-go sidewalks, there must be a better way to raise revenue than tax avoidance, rent-gouging, and declaring tax losses and depreciation. So did the City.

    A DOWNTOWN BAR DISTRICT!!! There’s the ticket! Just like Austin and San Antonio! Good rents, if not huge. No really difficult building improvements (atmosphere being a cashable asset. Higher taxes only if you put something upstairs. Pedestrian-accessible to all those students (for some reason, nobody at the Chambers or the “Rising Star” seems ever to let on how many students are actually commuters or attending off campus, which has ruined more than a few businesspersons and landlords). Or sell it to the public (County) and be done.

    And that, boys and girls, according to Uncle Remus the storyteller, is how San Marcos came to see the potential loss or gain from the downtown. Thus followed the Downtown Sidewalks and Renewal Plan, likely the only Master-Planned improvements ever followed through. Thus the growth of Main Street Texas, from which Mother Kelly Franks has nurtured many nice eggs, using only City scraps and volunteer work to cause MAJOR downtown rein- vestment and a host of annual events and programs like “Texas Natural” marketing. She has achieved numerous awards and recognitions and a ton of free advertising and exposure and tourism…on and on. We all owe the woman.

    That is also the origin of the City’s requirement that downtown businesses be brought up to at least semi-modern code standards to keep fire insurance low and offer safety (Thank you, Marshal Ken Bell.). That is why we have a Bar Ordinance–some people being shaken awake by the then increasing destruction, crime and vandalism surrounding some of them, and realizing we ain’t Sixth Street, nor ever will be, nor need to be. That is also what gave the Honorable Ed Mihalkanin, with some help, to make the cheap but valuable resource of the County’s old
    defunct theater into the LBJ Museum, which will outlive him. The trees and benches. The waste receptacles. Trees and flowers. Nice sidewalks and ADA access. Lofts and apartments. Downtown patrols. Free parking. Trams. Nicer, homier restaurants. Live music venues. Games. Attractive facades. “Wired” businesses and specialty shops. Big and growing annual festivals and civic celebrations. Thank the Downtown Association and the Bar Owners Association. Thank the County and private sector for making some old buildings historically sound.

    Many have helped drag us back from the edge of decay, such that the University is now planning with the City in mind, instead of buying and razing every building in sight as once planned–though a wary eye must be kept. And thank TxDOT for specific consideration and for keeping largely out of the way. Except that those folks now have the insane idea sold to the City of the full urbanization/damnation of Aquarena Springs by an elevated, expressway-sized overpass to doom the east side of town and nearby businesses, and dump more inbound traffic just short of the River. But, as I was told, done right(!) “the new overpasses can be just beautiful.”

    But back to the main point. Still not enough damned parking downtown. Nor will there ever be, unless either God makes the place bigger geometrically or new parking is introduced. Butt-ugly, terribly expensive stacked parking in the midst of the historic re-dos? On University facing the spanking new “Front Door” and Performing Arts Center being done by TxS-SM as soon as there is money? How about if the City and landlords, at least in the meantime, finally co-venture paving some of the nasty alley space for employees and paid reserve parking? Just trying to shed a bit of light, not heat.

    Whatever happened to the ongoing, collaborative, renewed continuously, strictly followed Master Plan blessed by CONA and all the rest, with full updates every five years? I understand we are paying to buy a new and improved one very soon.

  7. Thank you Mayor Moore for reminding us just how far Downtown has come. In all the talk I don’t think a lot of people realize this, or appreciate it. I bristle when I hear someone talk about the need to “revitalize” downtown San Marcos, Downtown San Marcos has been revitalized, now we just need to preserve it, and improve it.

    I am glad city council is obsessed with Downtown, any city council of any city should be obseessed with it’s downtown, for a downtown is the most important section of any city, or should be.

  8. @Dano: San Marcos really is a small town compared to cities like Austin, San Antonio or Houston. I don’t mean this as an ad hominem against San Marcos, but more as a geographic description.

    For instance, Houston is a large city because it takes 30-60 damn minutes to get anywhere you want to go, usually. San Marcos is tiny because it generally takes 3-6 minutes (depending on the construction/college students) to get where you want to go.

    My point was that given the size of San Marcos, we really don’t need to be focusing on an area as small as downtown as an exclusive place to focus all our money and efforts on.

    @billygmoore: TL;DR

  9. Yeah, it’s a real important collection of bars, vintage clothing stores, head shops, and a bunch of attorney’s offices that will be gone as soon as the courthouse relocates. Just what I want my city council to spend a ton of money on.

    It seems that a certain vocal segment of our population would prefer to dump all of our resources into downtown and to heck with the rest of town. To me, our downtown is no more deserving of our tax dollars than Springtown, anything along 21, development along Hunter Road, or so on. The only difference is that the people who own businesses downtown have an organized lobby.

    And to answer Lila’s question from earlier re: what makes San Marcos unique….it’s a combination of the Interstate, the University, the outlet malls, and the river. Unfortunately, it seems that many people around here seem intent on shying away from 3 out of 4 of those things rather than embracing them.

  10. @Brian: I think we’re saying the same thing, albeit in different ways. I didn’t mean to imply that SM was a burgeoning metropolis (though it certainly can take more than five minutes to get across town)….but we’re not Wimberley or Luling either.

  11. Oh Honorable Moore – I so love it when you “so on again.” You need to so more often. We all learn so much when you do.

    Dano – I don’t think the Interstate makes San Marcos unique. Rather, I-35 is something that many cites and towns have in common (San Antonio, Shertz, San Marcos, Kyle, Buda, Austin, etc.). And if downtown is unimportant – what characterizes “the rest of town” of which you speak? Springtown, Outlet Malls, new commercial development along Hunter Road? What? Do those places make San Marcos unique or different? Why should I leave Kyle and go to San Marcos for those places? Don’t mean to be aggressive, just pondering the question.

  12. No sweat, Lila.

    First, I don’t think downtown is completely unimportant….but I certainly don’t think it should be the focus of everything we are trying to do. Especially, as I have said, with the current makeup of downtown businesses. There is nothing about downtown San Marcos that would bring me here as a tourist. If I were a tourist, there is a 99% chance that I would be here for the outlet malls and about a 1% chance it would be for the river (sorry river lovers, it’s nice but it’s too full of weeds to attract visitors – plus there is little ‘river industry’ in this town besides some tube rentals). The city has poured a ton of money into the square already (as others have pointed out) yet all we see popping up there is more bars. Why continue to focus on that?

    Now, to the point….I wasn’t trying to say that the interstate was necessarily unique to San Marcos, but rather the synergy of having the interstate (easy access) with our other attractions (University, river, outlet malls) makes it something that our City leaders needs to address as a priority.

    The current problem is that most of the development along the interstate ranges from haphazard to plain ugly. My argument would be that I-35 is the primary conduit through town for a vast majority of visitors to San Marcos and if it looks ugly along the interstate, our chances of getting someone to jump off and stay a while are greatly diminished.

    The Embassy and yes, even the development at Creekside are a step in the right direction. It’s vital to get something done with Springtown, though. There’s obviously no guarantee that this kind of development will bring tourism to San Marcos, but it’s got to be better than empty buildings.

  13. With regards to the annual city budget, it is ludicrous to suggest that the city has poured a “ton of money” (ever) into downtown, nor do they have any immediate plans to do so.

    So don’t worry; your status quo will remain intact.

    It does make one wonder though. What did bring you to San Marcos? (The Outlet Mall?)

  14. $3 million to Prime Outlets, $6 Million to StoneCreek (Target), $20 Million to Conference Center, several million to Widelite, Cfan, Grifols etc. $3 million for Rio-Vista, $2 million for Aquarena greenspace, $12 million for Cheatham St neighborhoods….All of our money goes into downtown? The improvements made to the square were 10 years ago. What have we spent there since?

  15. I don’t believe The Embassy and Stonecreek are significant steps in the right direction, although they do look better than a lot of what we have along IH 35. The Outlet Mall is far better looking and more inviting, IMO.

    I will agree that out appearance along IH 35 is important. I have had people tell me that San Marcos is “an armpit,” based solely on their impression when driving by on 35. Not surprisingly, they never even had the urge to venture into the city.

    Of course, the mish-mash continues throughout various parts of town, like Springtown and much of Hopkins/80/Hunter as well as Guadalupe/123 for that matter. So, if they judged San Marcos based on how it looks from the highway, it is difficult to blame them or assert that they were mistaken. There are pockets of attractive development in San Marcos, but they tend to be the exception, not the rule.

    Now, I would not call San Marcos an armpit, or ugly, but I would call much of it unremarkable.

  16. There has been a point missed in all this. To my knowledge no downtown business has ever asked the city for a grant or loan to inable it to operate, which is what the Springtown developers were doing. We do ask for infrastuctue improvements, which is the city’s responsibility.

    You can never tell what a city is really like from the interstate, and all towns and cities pretty much look alike from the interstate. You have to get off the interestate, the the downtown and the neighborhoods to really get the flavor of a place.

    And by the way, I have no intention of leaving downtown once the courts move. I would much rather have my office downtown and drive a little than to have my office in some strip center. In fact I don’t think many off the established attorneys will move. I will believe the new county offices are being built the day I see the foundation being poured.

  17. I’ve done a lot of driving across the country and while the interstate (or state highway) does not typically offer the best view of the city, to say that they all look alike from the highway is quite inaccurate. Some look far better than others.

    More to the point though, the view from the highway does tell you what much of San Marcos is like.

  18. “I would much rather have my office downtown and drive a little than to have my office in some strip center.”

    Precisely my point. What percentage of San Marcos looks like square and what percentage looks like any old strip mall in any city? How much looks like what you see on the square and how much looks like what you see from the highway?

  19. Yes, I was also wondering what prompted Dano to live in San Marcos, and I have another question:

    Have you visited downtown lately? It is becoming so much more than just a bar scene. The last 4-5 businesses that have opened along Hopkins are Retail, Restaurant and Service related, and are owned/operated by members of the community. If they are able to survive this tough economy, it certainly won’t be due to any help or support from the city.

    Do you ever read periodicals such as “Texas Monthly” or “Texas Highways”? Towns that are featured as fun destinations are generally not those which have become just another Any Town USA along an interstate. It is the towns with Character, Charm and a sense of Community that are favored. In our own backyard, just look at Gruene or New Braunfels. People certainly aren’t exiting the freeway to visit those towns so that they can go to the Target and Kohls, which they can pass several times between Austin and San Antonio.

    The outlets are here, so we should support them to avoid the giant outlet ghost towns that have plagued other cities. They do provide us with shopping and jobs. However, generic corporate businesses don’t give a town it’s identity. Local business does, and local business people are more likely to care about the fate of their community at large. If we are going to give incentives and advertising dollars to these large companies, why not spread some around locally so visitors to the outlets will know that there is more to San Marcos than the 35 corridor.

    I might also point out that a vast majority of outlet visitors are shoppers from outside the U.S. and pay no sales tax. These visitors only help San Marcos if they go beyond a stop-and-go shopping trip.

  20. “I might also point out that a vast majority of outlet visitors are shoppers from outside the U.S. and pay no sales tax”

    Is this based on assumption or perception or actual stats? If stats, can you provide them to back up this claim? Not trying to be confrontational, I am truely curious. I know the Mexicans come up frequently but I would never guess that the “vast majority” are non-US.

  21. Sorry about that link. I thought I broke it enough to post it. In case it comes down:

  22. “If we are going to give incentives and advertising dollars to these large companies, why not spread some around locally…”

    How about we not give money away. Ted outlined $36 million taxpayer dollars that have gone to private interests who have come hat in hand to Council (not counting Cheatham which is different).

    As to Mr. Rasco, money for operations was given to Kulabyte while it was downtown. Dowtown is better than 10 years ago; I wish each of those merchants the best and support them all I can. I just don’t want them publicly funded beyond necessary infrastructure.

  23. There is an office at the Outlet Mall where shoppers from Mexico can have 100% of their sales tax refunded.

    We spent $100,000.00 in the incentive package to the Outlet Malls a year ago for shopping bags, to hand to these people as they walked off the airplane at San Antonio airport.

    In my view, there is NO return on that incentive, aside from helping the gross store sales figures at the mall, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but should WE (taxpayers) pay for that?

  24. Shopping Tax Free in Texas-TangerSTYLE!
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    TaxFree Shopping Ltd, a Texas Customs Broker, located in Suite 331-A (in corridor between Reebok and The Fudgery) will process your Texas sales receipts and refund your tax dollars, less a processing fee. To qualify for a Texas Sales Tax refund the following documentation must be presented at TaxFree Shopping:

    I-94 (White or green card in your passport).
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    Original sales receipts and purchased items.
    ALL Purchased Items MUST be seen by the Tax Refund Center Associate.

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  25. I don’t know if I would agree that there is no benefit, but I haven’t seen anything to quantify it, one way or the other, which is disturbing. If I spend money at work, I am required to show some benefit tied to that expenditure.

    The Outlet Mall is reportedly the third largest tourist draw in Texas, with 25,000 to 30,000 visitors per day. The questions that we ought to want to have answered are, how much of that is because of the money we spend, how much do we get back from that expense and how many of those people make it into other parts of San Marcos.

    I believe the last question is where the real opportunity lies. Does tourism begin and end at the Outlet Mall, or do we lure a significant number of those 25,000 visitors per day to visit the rest of the city. I can’t say that I can think of any significant efforts to do so.

    For example, CARTS has a line that runs from the Outlet Mall to the square (almost). It runs hourly. I’m guessing, in addition to being inconvenient, that rate only gives us a capacity of about 500-1,000 passengers per day, from the mall to the square.

    Also, it does not appear to stop at the square, OR at either Outlet Mall. It stops at San Marcos Station and along the highway by the Outlet Mall (at least, that is what the map looks like). It also makes numerous stops of no interest to tourists.

    In contrast, the university shuttles run every 10-20 minutes and have pick-up and drop-off locations that are meaningful to the passengers.

    Perhaps an express shuttle from the mall, to the square might be interesting. Or a shuttle from the mall, to the square, with stops near other restaurants and shops between the two. I bet route modifications would cost less than $500,000. Perhaps those perimeter lot shuttles at the Outlet Mall could run to the square, as a reciprocal investment in San Marcos, to go with our investment in their mall.

    If we are paying to bring 25,000 people to the mall every day, it seems silly to make so little effort to get them any further than the mall.

  26. What does it matter if they only come to the mall? Sales tax is sales tax whether it is generated by the folks spending all of their time at the mall or if they spend a portion of their time on a buss to get to downtown to not have anything to buy other than coffee, some food, drinks, or to hire an attorney!

    Why take them away from the mall and make them waste spending time sitting on a bus?

    I don’t think getting Outlet Mall customers into downtown is any solution to growing downtown. Folks come with the Outlet Mall as their destination. They are not interested in checking out some shop on the square.

  27. So, you’ve surveyed them? Thanks for offering up your expertise.

    It seems like basic up-sell/cross-sell to me. If I have customers on our website looking for A, I want to be sure they know about B, C and D. Often, they buy multiple items. Other times, they come back later for something else, based on what we told them about on their earlier visit.

    When I go to San Antonio, I may go there with the Riverwalk as a destination in mind, but I will often take the public transportation to other parts of town, to see other things.

    I don’t recall forcing anyone to “waste spending time on a bus.” I suggested making the routes a little different, so that more people might take that bus.

  28. While sales tax is sales tax, revenue is not revenue. Revenue for local businesses is better for us than revenue for out of town corporations, because it tends to re-circulate within the community.

    Also, a shuttle and some information about other attractions, like the river, the square, events at the university, etc, can mean the difference between a day trip and we weekend trip. Do those folks who drive up from Mexico (and may not be paying sales tax) stay in San Marcos, or do they stay somewhere else and just come to San Marcos for a few hours at the mall? Can we get them to stay here? Can we get them to stay longer? Can we get them to spend more money? I know it may seem foreign to government, but it is basic capitalism. My existing customers are my greatest potential future customers.

  29. We are speaking of two different sets of clientele, and two different mindsets (that may very well overlap).

    On this rare occasion, I agree with COS.

    People arriving in San Marcos from Mexico come for the shopping at the Outlet Malls. While many fly in, some of them do indeed drive from the border, and return with their cars/trucks FULL of merchandise, and also with their sales tax refund in hand.

    People driving in from other Texas cities for Outlet Mall shopping, may also plan to spend some time on the San Marcos river, or maybe have lunch in a restaurant somewhere in town, or even venture to the shops and restaurants downtown, and to these destinations, they would also certainly take their automobiles.

    For this, some downtown parking would be nice.

  30. If 500 daily visitors (out of 25,000), who might ordinarily go home, or to a hotel in another town, decided to come into San Marcos to see what else we had to offer and decided to have dinner before leaving, that would be an extra $4.5 million per year for our local businesses.

    If they decided to spend the night, have dinner and breakfast and walked around town, but didn’t spend another dime in any other stores, that would be more than $25 million per year.

    Anything we can do to encourage them to spend more time and money here is worth investigating. A shuttle, whether it is from rerouting our busses (by a couple of blocks) or by the Outlet Mall offering a courtesy shuttle in exchange for all of the money we give them, seems like a potential win.

    25,000 to 30,000 visitors per day = 9 to 11 million visitors per year. Getting them to spend an extra dollar is a worthwhile effort.

  31. To those who have asked….I originally came to San Marcos because of the University. I stayed because I liked living in a college town and I liked the amenities (yep, the “big box” stores) that were here because of the university and the mall. How many towns of 25,000 have the options that we have for dining and shopping? Not many.

    Sure, it helps that I was able to find a good job, but I can honestly say that “downtown” had absolutely nothing to do with me coming to San Marcos or deciding to stay here after college.

    Oh, and didn’t the Figols or Harrelsons get government money to help renovate the building where Sean Patrick’s is under the ‘public blight’ provisions?

  32. Downtown parking would be good, too. I’ve been in favor of that for as long as I can remember.

    Laredo is about a 6 hour round-trip and I am sure that plenty come from further than that. It does not seem like it would take too much encouragement for some people to turn that into a 2-day excursion.

    Also, I still have not seen any stats on the percentage of visitors coming from out of town, out of state or out of country.

  33. Speaking of parking, nobody gets towed or ticketed for parking at the Prime Outlet and walking to the Tanger outlet, or for walking to Centerpoint Station, or for taking a bus into town, for that matter.

    Find me a single place in downtown where I can park and walk around for the amount of time people typically spend at the Outlet Mall.

    Yeah, downtown parking would be a huge plus, but it needs to be unrestricted parking, or it will only encourage more driving around and shorter visits.

  34. Thanks Ted and others for the info. No one here doubts the value of the outlet mall as a source of revenue and jobs. The criticisms I’m hearing are: 1. the city has been and continues to be too generous toward the mall (and perhaps at the expense of small local businesses, downtown district, etc.) 2. A benefit of the mall (and a justification of incentives) is that it should funnel outsiders to local restaurants, entertainment, etc, but the observation is that it has not done so.

    I agree with the criticisms. When I visit the Outlet Mall I feel like I’m in a level of hell, but I still go there once a year to buy work clothes. Personally, I think the City should do everything it can to revitalize inner San Marcos instead of encouraging sprawl through incentives and zoning/development changes & variances. There are still plenty of empty buildings downtown that can be rehabbed or turned into multistory parking. There are still plenty of dirt cheap residential lots between San Antonio Street and I-35. Instead of dilapidated shacks there could be starter homes and small complexes walking distance to TX State. We don’t need more giant student apartments down RR12, Hunter Lane, or Post Road.

  35. My criticism is pretty general.

    We don’t seem to ask for anything in return for many of the incentives that we offer various businesses, we don’t seem to make the most of the opportunities available to us and we don’t seem to measure anything, to see if it worked out for us or not.

    I’d like to see evidence that certain programs are working. I’d like to see creative ideas to make them work better (for the whole city). I’d like to see more skin in the game from the recipients, whether it means that Target builds a store that looks the way we want it to look, or the Outlet Mall provides a shuttle to downtown, or that their marketing, which we pay for, promotes other activities/destinations in San Marcos.

  36. “So, you’ve surveyed them? Thanks for offering up your expertise.”

    Thanks for your smartass remark towards my comment, Ted. Truely a class act.

  37. Ted, my original reply was not meant to be a smart ass remark nor was it directed to you or anyone else. I still say that most folks that visit the outlet mall are here for the outlet mall and not much is going to draw them to other parts of the city. Just like I would think that most folks that come for the river are not going to go to the outlet mall.

  38. I know it’s not realistic, but wouldn’t all of our problems be solved if our local government stayed out of private business affairs and simply did the job that government was originally intended to do?

    How low would our taxes be if ALL levels of government in the USA would stick to their core responsiblities?Government should stick to providing for the national defense, administration of laws, infrastructure, public safety, and education. Anything else – be it our retirement, our health care, our charity, or our enterprise – should be left in the hands of the private citizenry because that is where it is most efficiently managed.

  39. COS, then I misunderstood and I apologize. That is one of the perils of this sort of discussion, vs face-to-face conversations.

  40. Dano, it would seem so, but I am not sure that in reality it would be so. The government needs money to do those things. In San Marcos, that money generally comes from sales tax and property tax. So, the government has a vested interest in keeping those coming in, which means the government cares how the local businesses fare and how various properties are developed.

    Unfortunately, the more the government gets involved, the larger it gets and the more money it needs, leading it to get even more involved, growing even larger and needing even more money.

    Then, you can throw into the mix the multiple different views of what constitutes adequate involvement in public safety, education and infrastructure. And once a program is created, for anything, now there are jobs involved, so when the next officials take office, they aren’t going to be inclined to kill the programs that they believe went in the wrong direction. They just add the programs that they think go in the right direction.

    I’ve certainly over-simplified it, but that’s my 2 cents.

  41. That does not mean we can’t demand some accountability and some evidence that our “investments” are paying off.

  42. Government has been growing at an alarming rate over the past fifty years and much of it is for no other reason than to keep itself increasingly relevant. The more ‘important’ government becomes, the more it can justify its continued growth. It’s already become a bloated, inefficient catch-all for whatever the issue of the day is.

    It’s a sick way of thinking. It’s bad for the economy and the nation, and it’s beginning to foster an entire generation of Americans who honestly believe that it’s the job of Government to take care of their needs.

    That’s not *my* American Dream.

  43. The idea that government must partner because it has a stake is simply not true. The “stake” is existing taxes which the businesses and homeowners must pay as citizens who benefit from core government functions. Their is no reciprocal requirement that government must return it to businesses who demand they do so. Core government functions will get done in SM without giving money to private interests in the name of “partnering.” There is an existing tax base which can more than fund core government functions. If a company will only do business here if it can push its tax burden onto those without as much political sway, we don’t need them.

  44. Data from Prime Outlets estimate that 9 million visitors come to the outlet mall annually, and that about 1 million (11%) of those are Mexican nationals.

    Of perhaps more relevance is the study done by Texas State earlier this year that reveals that the average Mexican national “travel party” spends about $1,500 per day during a trip to the outlet malls. The average size of the “travel party” was noted to be five, so that means that they spend about $300 apiece for each day that they are here. Total contribution to the US economy of the Mexican nationals coming to the outlet malls is estimated at $2.3 billion.

    That’s a lot of money and it’s sad to think that the majority of it isn’t able to be taxed (at least to the extent that these shoppers take advantage of the refund system). Unfortunately, unless the US Government can figure out a way to legally tax non-citizens, it’s not likely to change.

  45. The government may not need to partner. I didn’t say that it did. I said that it has a vested interest in making sure that sales taxes and property taxes keep rolling in, which means that it is going to be concerned with the health of the businesses in town and the development of the property.

    How it addresses those concerns is another matter, but in general, it addresses them by getting involved to some degree, typically at the urging of the voters and it snowballs from there.

    I think a truly hands-off government is a very unlikely scenario. I just don’t see the day when we successfully get the government out of everything. So, I prefer to look at government spending the same way I look at spending at work. I am accountable to shareholders and board members and I am required to prove the ROI for my programs or see them shut down. It is reasonable to expect the same from the people I elect to work for me.

  46. Dano, it would be interesting to see the average daily spend for other visitors.

    $1500 per day is pretty significant and that tax refund is only for stores that participate. So, if any subset can be convinced to stay another day (did the report say anything about the duration of the stay?), and spend a few dollars downtown, that money would be taxed.

    While it is unlikely they would spend $1500 downtown, as there just aren’t as many options, they could spend enough to provide a boost. Maybe even enough to attract a few more retailers, without incentives, to fill some of the currently vacant properties.

    If the question is whether we should spend $500,000 in incentives for the Outlet Mall, I need to see some evidence of a return on that investment. If the question is whether we could get more for that money than we currently do, I would say almost certainly.

  47. Well, accepting the statistics that I read as “fact” we can iterate some numbers.

    9 million visitors per year; 1 million spend $300 each. Let’s, for the sake of argument, say that the average US citizen only spends half that. So we have:

    (300)(1,000,000)+(150)(8,000,000) = $1.5 Billion in annual sales for the outlet malls each year.

    The local sales tax rate is what – 1%? So that means that just in sales tax dollars, the City reaps a financial reward from the outlet malls in the neighborhood of $15 million per year. If you assume that about 20% (the highest reasonable number I could come up with) of that is rebated to Mexican nationals, you still have the City making $12 million a year just in sales tax from the malls….and that says nothing to any property tax money that the City collects from the malls (the City did annex that area, right?)

    I would say that a $500,000 investment in the malls is reasonable, given this scenario.

    In my reading, I saw that the City of Mercedes committed $50 million (!) in infrastructure and incentives for the outlet mall that went in there a couple of years ago….and the local economy seems to have recouped that figure several times over already.

    Can you imagine if the City leaders here proposed $50 million in incentives for a business? Heads would explode…..

  48. Oh, and retailtrafficmag did a (non-scientific) survey of outlet mall shoppers and found that the average amount spent by those polled was $185…so I think at least one of my assumptions was at least in the ballpark – if not conservative.

  49. I’m not saying the $500,000 is not reasonable. I can’t say one way or the other, without seeing something that quantifies the return on that investment.

    If we didn’t spend that money, would revenue drop? How much of a boost do we get for the $500k? Are there ways we could get more?

    Based on experience, I’d say there are always opportunities to improve the ROI.

  50. On that point, we agree. I’m sure that there are metrics out there that quantify the city’s roi for this money….or at least I would hope that there would be.

    I just don’t know how to get access to them and I would bet a dollar to a donut that it’s considered “classified” by those who do have it.

    I will say that if the choice is between giving the outlet mall back what amounts to 3% of the sales tax revenue it generates and giving that same money to the downtown area, I would go with the mall every time. The businesses on the square would take years and years to generate the revenue for the City that the mall generates in a single year.

    To apply a business analogy, you give your best customers the best deals…and the outlet mall is doubtless the City’s best “customer.”

  51. You may be right, but if there is no revenue increase for the $500k, you may be wrong.

    More importantly, I am not sure why this needs to be an either/or proposition. That $500k could be used in a joint marketing campaign, to promote the Outlet Mall, as well as other San Marcos attractions. It could be given in exchange for something like a shuttle service to downtown. There are undoubtedly many other possibilities as well, but I have a meeting to get to and can’t brainstorm right now.

  52. No worries Ted – my brainstorm is down to a light drizzle right now. It’s been a long week.

    I think we agree that we want our City leaders to spend “our” tax money in a manner that is not only fiscally responsible but also in a way that will lead to some benefit down the road.

    I wish I knew how to quantify it, but all I have right now is a gut feeling that tells me that having the City invest in the outlet malls is a good thing since they are our largest revenue producer.

    Will the malls pack up and leave if we (the City) doesn’t give them some money? I doubt it. Does the city get a proper ROI for its money? I hope so and I think so, but proving it requires far more knowledge than I’m able to generate right now…..

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