COMMENT OF THE DAY: WATCHING FOR SIGNS OF A 380 TURN FROM TURNER “Mayor Parker threw a lot of candy to developers in the form of 380 agreements and the massive downtown residential housing initiative. No new 380 agreements have come up before council since Mayor Turner took office. If big new projects like the Halliburton site or Tarkett site do not get 380 agreements, it will be pretty clear that there has been a big shift in power in the Mayor’s office away from developers.” [Old School, commenting on Houston Housing Authority Authority Resigns In Wake of Briargrove Mixed-Income Kerfuffle] Illustration: Lulu
Yesterday the Downtown Management District approved funding under the city’s downtown living initiative for Randall Davis’s planned downtown condo tower. But before Swamplot could receive any additional entries in the impromptu design competition for the project initiated by a reader, the developer appears to have gone ahead and dropped a view of his own proposal. Here, in all it’s blanc-et-noir-ish splendor, is an actual rendering of the Marlowe as its developer intends it. The 100-unit building is shown hovering over a Photoshop-white blanket atop an aerial map of the block bounded by Polk, Caroline, Austin, and Dallas streets, across the street from the House of Blues at the eastern end of GreenStreet, the renamed Houston Pavilions.
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COMMENT OF THE DAY: A LITTLE 411 ON THAT 2010 $6 MILLION 380 SOUTH OF I-10 “For the record, the Ainbinder 380 Agreement did not include drainage detention, they simply tied into existing storm sewer systems — there were no ‘improvements.’ The road was widened at the expense of a tree-lined sidewalk. The sidewalk was ‘abandoned,’ which means ‘is no longer in existence.’ There are no street tree wells and/or no ROW accounted for to plant shade-bearing street trees. The removal of $250K worth of mature Live Oaks resulted in a transfer of this public amenity to Walmart’s parking lot. Yes, that’s right. Public trees were allowed to be replanted on Walmart’s parking lot.
And, oh yeah, the four-sided intersection has just two pedestrian signalized crossings. Yes, you can’t actually safely cross on two sides because there are no lights and markings. Why? Because PW&E missed it and the developer didn’t end up having to pay for it. The ‘bridge improvement’ is the biggest boondoggle of them all. Ainbinder wanted to pave it and area civic orgs fought them. Turns out, after coring was performed on the bridge, that the dead load was far greater than known AS A RESULT OF previous paving. That was the second load limit drop. So, Ainbinder window-dressed and spent 380 monies for cosmetic treatments — changing out balustrades and painting A BRIDGE THAT WILL BE TORN DOWN. That is an absurd waste of taxpayer money.
Unlike other 380s, the Ainbinder 380 had next to no specifications that ensured deliverables. There were no clawback provisions to ensure public return on the investment. Once the money is awarded to the developer, they can strike or change line items and they still get full payment. The development doesn’t even have to perform to produce new taxes (not just poached taxes), it can be a miserable failure and they still get paid.
The folks that were championing this development are now trying to pretend the public infrastructure results were worth $6,000,000 of public money. Guess what? You were wrong then and you’re still wrong now. The proof is right there for everyone to see. Own it.” [TexasSpiral, commenting on Headlines: Getting to the Washington Heights Walmart; Learning Lessons from Hurricane Ike]
STUDEMONT KROGER 380 AGREEMENT PASSES By a 10-5 vote this morning, city council approved the mayor’s plan for a so-called “380” development agreement between the city and Kroger. Under the agreement, the grocery company would receive up to $2.5 million in sales and property tax reimbursements from the city in return for job-creation guarantees connected to a new store and gas station at 1400 Studemont St., just south of I-10. Also in the deal: a land exchange with the city to allow Summer St. to connect to Studemont through the company’s property. [Previously on Swamplot]
NEW LAWSUIT SEEKS TO BLOCK WASHINGTON HEIGHTS WALMART TAX DEAL A nonprofit group formed to fight the proposed Washington Heights Walmart in the West End filed a lawsuit in district court yesterday, claiming that the tax reimbursement deal between the city and the project’s developer, Ainbinder Heights LLC, violates state law. Responsible Urban Development for Houston calls the $6 million agreement, in which the city promises to pay the developer back for infrastructure improvements, an “unconstitutional gratuitous transfer” that doesn’t meet state standards. The lawsuit also seeks to shut down all similar agreements established by the city, for “failing to provide sufficient controls to ensure that 380 agreements are not abused as either an end run around bond finance procedures or as political favors returned to well connected developers.” City Council is scheduled to vote on a similar agreement, for a new Kroger on Studemont just south of I-10, today. [Houston Politics; lawsuit; West End Walmart coverage]
WEST END WALMART DEVELOPMENT 380 AGREEMENT GETS CITY COUNCIL OK As expected, city council this morning approved a program of reimbursements to Ainbinder Company for improvements to public areas related to its Washington Heights Walmart-plus-strip-centers development in the West End. The vote, 11-4, came after amendments were approved limiting taxpayer costs to $6,050,000. The improvements will include wider sidewalks and bigger trees along Yale and Heights than required minimums, drainage and reconstruction of several nearby streets, and a jogging path along the Heights Blvd. esplanade south of I-10. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot]
A few highlights from last night’s meet-and-jeer on the third floor of the George R. Brown Convention Center Downtown, where representatives of Walmart, Ainbinder, and the city gave presentations on the Walmart and related retail developments proposed for the area around Yale and Koehler streets in the West End:
- Mayor Parker announced she had originally hoped to hold the meeting at the United Way building at 50 Waugh St. in Memorial Heights, but the nonprofit turned her down — probably because of concerns it might get “rowdy,” she joked. But the night’s meeting format seemed designed to keep public outbursts to a minimum: After the presentations, attendees were asked to break up into smaller groups and gather around tables in the back to get their questions answered, one by one, from city officials or developer representatives. Before attendees could be dispersed, though, a few people managed to work their way to a microphone and ask questions or make statements in front of the entire room.
- A significant percentage of the crowd wore “I don’t want that Walmart” red shirts. It wasn’t clear what portion of the less-vibrantly-dressed people there supported the development, but during his presentation Walmart senior VP Jeff McAllister did announce that many of the company’s suppliers were in attendance.
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CITY TAX INCENTIVES TO HELP WALMART BUILD IN THE WEST END? Mayor Parker tells the Houston Press‘s Christopher Patronella Jr. that the city has been discussing the possibility of a tax-incentive agreement with the developer of the 25-acre site off Yale St. in the West End — where Walmart is planning to build a new store: “‘The city is not negotiating with [Walmart]. However, there are ongoing conversations with the developer regarding a 380 Agreement, which allows for the dedication of future tax revenues from a qualifying project to be used as reimbursement to the developer for necessary infrastructure improvements. 380 Agreements are authorized under state law and have been used previously by the city. This is still not a done deal.’ The 380 agreements, as established by the Texas Local Government Code, authorize cities to refund a portion of projected sales-tax income over a period of time. From Jan 1, 2000 to May 21, 2008, according to the City of Austin’s peer city comparison of economic development agreements, Houston has among the lowest number of such agreements with 11, next to Austin with 7. San Antonio is next in line with 43 and Dallas and Fort Worth with a combined 85. City spokesperson Janice Evans told Hair Balls that the city generally considers projects that are at least $25 million, require substantial new public infrastructure and create a measurable number of new jobs, for the 380 agreements. “The major project that I can point you to that utilized these same concepts is the planned [Regent Square] redevelopment of the former Allen House site. That project will eventually be a $750 million investment.'” [Hair Balls; previously on Swamplot]