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

May 2nd, 2010
Editorial: What's next for Springtown Center?

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.

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0 thoughts on “Editorial: What's next for Springtown Center?

  1. If and when our City leaders decide to spend our taxpayer money on economic development, they should consider these five questions:

    1) Will it raise or lower the average household income?
    2) Does it expand the diversity and vibrancy of our local economy?
    3) Will it attract the kinds of businesses and industries we have identified for our long-term economic sustainability?
    4) How does it stack rank to the plans and projects we already have developed?
    5) Is it a good deal for everybody involved?

    Affirmative answers to these five questions will help confirm we are making the best possible decision at the time it is in play.

    Our taxpayer money should be treated with great care.

  2. Not everyone against the earlier Springtown development proposals were in similar businesses in San Marcos. So, when Mayor Narvaiz said “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,” she was not telling the truth. It was not dishonest of me and others without business interests to oppose these unneeded giveaways of taxpayer funds that would have been received through taxes had the businesses been started.

    The Mayor is often both dishonest and disingenuous when it comes to discussions of economic development giveaways. She promised me information about some of these giveaways over 1 and 1/2 years ago and has yet to make good on that promise made at a public meeting at the Price Seniors Center.

  3. Shouldn’t there be some disclosure here about the ownership interest of this site’s management in several downtown bars/restaurants (ot at least the real estate)? It would seem appropriate, as it may help readers fully understand this site’s continuing and vocal opposition to subsidies for Springtown. It certainly changes the tone when you realize that they actually have a horse in the race…..

  4. There are plenty of San Marcos taxpayers against developer bailouts. We already have plenty of worthy city projects unfulfilled, and we have an enormous debt (long-term obligations by the City of San Marcos to the tune of almost $300 million – this is above and beyond what we already spend each year to keep the city running). Economic development incentives need to pass an even higher hurdle these days, in these lean economic times.

  5. I don’t have an ownership interest in any local business. I think this bailout would be a colossal waste of my money, because it would do nothing to diversify the local economy or raise the standard of living for our citizens. I’m not sure what is so difficult to understand about that.

  6. Very well written editorial. Thanks Newstreamz. The information I am providing below is a little off target but does discuss the use of City funds and the future use of City funds.

    I attended the City Capital Improvements Plan meeting on Tuesday. There was a handful of actual citizens and about 25 city employees and various consulting agencies. There was no speech making etc… Note to staff. Thanks for not boring us to death. The various city departments set up table with maps and literature regarding their Capitol Improvement projects for the next three years. This was in no way a meeting designed to elicit citizen input. These are all done deals which will be presented to P&Z and then Council for final approval some time this month. By this time in the process, I would suspect that the whole CIP plan could be put on the consent docket with no discussion.

    The City staff was very pleasant and made a legitimate attempt to answer all my questions. There is an almost unbelievable, in terms of number and scope of projects on line for the next three years. I suspect that a lot of these projects are going to be a complete surprise to most people in San Marcos. I really don’t have the knowledge to evaluate a lot of the projects. Most of us would be totally unable to determine if some of the capacity projects for San Marcos Electrical Utilities are worth the price of the project.

    I was specifically interested in the surveying being done on North LBJ between Oakridge Drive and Craddock and down Oakridge Drive. What is going to happen is that the sewer line going up N. LBJ from the lift station at Sagewood is going to be upsized and a new larger capacity pipe is going to be installed down Oakridge and out the end of Oakridge roughly across the flood plain damns to the new Windermere Ranch subdivision. Then the line will circle around town to the treatment plant. I was completely unaware of this project before the surveyors showed up and started spraying orange paint on the roads.

    I am some what concerned by this project for several reasons. One reason I am not concerned is because I live on Oakridge. The road will be a mess for a few months but after construction, there is no need for us to be even aware of the new sewer line. Reasons for concern are that this project is going to be very expensive. The line is going to cross some of the most rugged terrain in Hays County. If you stand at the top of the hill on Oakridge and look towards Lime Kiln road, you will see land that looks like it belongs some where around the Grand Canyon. Not only is the land very challenging in terms of topography but is almost all rock. This, is I am assuming is a primary recharge zone for the Aquifer and the surface water must flow into the San Marcos River at some point. I am sure that the City Engineer types have taken this in consideration and the pipe line will be build with all sorts of safety systems to control a spill. However, this kind of construction is bound to be very expensive. Is this project really necessary or is it just a back door way to get to Windermere.

    I am not a no growther so I have absolutely no objection to the Windermere development. This project isn’t even on the current CIP project list presented Tuesday night because it is already fully funded and ready to go to construction. Thus the orange marks on the pavement. The City Council is very aware of this project and has discussed it and funded it several years ago. Which makes me wonder about why we are even having a discussion regarding Windermere because it seems to be a done deal. Sometimes City projects get funny names that make sense to people at City Hall but kind of obscure the issue for most of us. This project should have been designated the Windermere subdivision sewer project or the Lime Kiln road sewer project. Instead it is called something weird like the Global All Inclusive Northwest Passage Sewer Interceptor Project. That’s some what of a joke but in reality I don’t remember what they call it because it is something almost that weird. That kind of project name makes it hard for even well informed citizens to keep track of City projects.

    The only input I offered to the staff was that since we are going to tear up N. LBJ between Oakridge and Craddock, maybe we should use the opportunity to fix this horrible little stretch of road instead of just putting it back like it is and then, in a few years, pay a lot of money to dig it back up and fix it correctly. All the City folks I talked with about this seemed to think that would be a good idea but since this an already approved project, I have my doubts that any changes will come about.

    Note to staff. Bring coffee. Cookies’ were nice but at six o’clock, we need coffee -bad.

    Charles Sims

    P.S. I no longer have any business ownership in San Marcos and I thought the Spring Town subsidy was a bad idea from day one.

  7. Splendid work, folks. It is comforting to see, at last, a revival to what was exemplary an exemplary City Planning awareness and care for sustainability of our resources, both natural and economic. San Marcos did a considerable length of experiment in good, proper urban planning (and zoning, though much tougher and more concentrated and public). Using University Professors and grad students to interact, augment, mentor and teach P&Z all the particulars and how they can fit together, depending on how active citizens are in asserting or offering assistance to become, with City Government, the most functional COMMUNITY we could possibly be–cheap, fair, honest, friendly even toward SOUND development interests, in their time. Hospitality to outsiders made a big spike after the “Oklahoma Land Rush” to develop the area in the late’70’s (once off-campus living bloomed, and various development tricks and ruses became evident. Unless you were pretty straight coming in, there was a good chance you would never make it to the money pit. THE GUYS STARTED COMING early! TO POUR OIL ON THEIR NEIGHBORS’ WATER AND REVEAL POSSIBLE POCKETS OF RESISTANCE.

    Showing up late, in a hurry, failing to rally at least some support from the neighbors for a proposed affecting change was virtual suicide for any project. Slower and more costly death visited those projects that did not perform once underway or after completion.

    A cost foregone is just as good–no, a better, direction of community resources as even the most likely project built on City Spec Money, thus becoming a necessity for future success. Money held a bit closer pays certain immediate and long-term interest, as well as the dividend of community vision being realized. The whole process, involving the entire body politic, is very effective at sculpting what the City needs to and can be. Size and pride aren’t necessarily the same thing, but either can be served and not hurt the other. People like nice places, places for people.

    Then comes the advent of the BIG money from “out of town ,” USA, with LARGE and COMPLEX projects and the three “suits’ trained to counter or hypnotize any given onlooker , (But be real secretive and don’t create a premature “buzz…”.) “Our credit’s too thin,” or “we have a fortune in borrowed money at stake,” or ARE WE GONNA MAKE OUT!, or “WHAT–if we can only get it all signed and filed in a hurry and cash those checks.” WE DID A DEAL!

  8. @Ted, Steve, Charles, etc:

    It wasn’t you guys “disclosing” anything that I was referring to. I also never claimed that there was only one reason to oppose incentivizing development. You guys are private citizens and your opinions are yours to have without justification (though in the context of debate, it does help to know why people have come to the conclusions that they have).

    I do, however, believe when that when a news website posts an editorial taking a strong opinion on a local issue, it is a disservice to the public that they serve when they don’t mention that they have a personal stake in the issue. I am no journalist, and am no expert on journalistic standards, but it only seems right to disclose personal interests from the bully pulpit. This is what I was referring to with my previous post.

  9. I was replying more to the mayor’s assertion that there were downtown businesses opposed to competition and the rest of us were just duped, more than anything else.

  10. The editorial board was actually much kinder in its interpretation of the mayor’s comments than I was. I read them as, if you oppose the subsidy for Springtown, you are either lying to protect your own personal interests, or too stupid to see what a great plan she has for the city.

    I find that offensive.

  11. This is just one more example of the City of San Marcos engaging in government by secrecy. You can observe all the legal elements of the Open Meetings Act and still keep things a secret from the average citizen. All you need do is use terms on the agenda which are not readily understandable by the public. Putting items on the consent agenda so they pass right on through with out the public knowing what is happening. There is way too many closed meetings where the Open Meeting law is honored legally but the intent of the law is totally disregarded.

    Please read my more extensive post on the use of non informational names of projects or agenda items. Go to Opinions>What’s next for Springtown Center>post #7.

    Charles Sims

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