April 3, 7 p.m.: Public hearing at a joint meeting of the Stafford Economic Development Corporation and Stafford City Council, 2610 S. Main St.
April 4, 7 p.m.: Stafford City Council holds first public hearing exclusively for comments and questions.
April 11, 7 p.m.: Stafford City Council final public hearing, followed by final vote on development.
Depending on whom you ask, the proposed $500 million redevelopment of nearly 200 acres of land at the old Texas Instruments campus will be a boon or bust for the city.
The Stafford Economic Development Corporation heard last week from the Street Level Investments developer Brian Murphy and company attorney Steve Robbins as well as Stafford City Attorney Art Pertile of Olson & Olson who explained that the development could grow the city’s coffers.
The public will have three more opportunities to hear the proposals and give their input starting 7 p.m. April 3 at the joint SEDC and Stafford City Council meeting. A final vote will be held April 11.
The 192 acres of property is bounded on the south by the Texas Instruments Ditch, on the west by Kirkwood Road and US Highway 59, on the north by West Airport Boulevard and on the east by FM 1092/Murphy Road.
If approved, the property will become a regional attraction for Stafford with shops, a central park, restaurants, high-end apartments, food halls with artisan chefs and a hotel. About $500,000 of funds from the hotel tax will be used to generate tourism and attract monies to the city.
In order to develop the area, Street Level wants $15 million in grants and rebates, in addition to the zero property tax incentive available to everyone. That would allow the developers to build the city’s infrastructure such as roads, water and sewer lines, and drainage.
“This is a project about growing the city. Creating a public/private partnership to allow you to maximize the potential so you can grow the pot,” said attorney Steve Robbins. “Public-Private partnerships are important and that’s why.”
Citing the success of Sugar Land development, Jeffrey Wiley, head of the Greater Fort Bend Economic Development Corporation, echoed support for the request.
“These agreements are nothing more than strategic. In addition, there is not one site in Houston that is as potentially as important. This is a $500 million development. Adding $500 million to the tax rolls of the school district is the equivalent of a $1.5 million debt service every year. Over 10 years to the school that will be worth $20 million and I know, mayor, you support the schools,” said Wiley, who spoke during the public comment.
Stafford Mayor Leonard Scarcella has made no secret of his opposition to the financial proposal. He said the financial agreement could lead to the city losing it’s zero property tax attraction because the city won’t be able to afford subsidizing the developer the first five years and still maintain city services.
Stafford is the largest city in Texas that offers zero property tax incentives to homeowners and businesses, making it the key attraction to living in or bringing a business to Stafford.
“We’ve never given anybody a penny before. And we are talking about $13 million, several million up front, and a rebate of sales tax that could go up to as much as 80 percent. They want $8.4 million with interest. I have a problem with that and a lot of taxpayers and business owners and citizens have problems with that,” Scarcella said.
Felix Sorkin, president of General Technologies, one of Stafford’s largest employers, was outraged at the idea. He came to Stafford 36 years ago and his business 30 years ago.
“I came from Russia with $200 in my pocket and worked my way through. I started with three employees in 1988, we employ hundreds and hundreds of people. It’s unbelievable for me that a developer would be asking for city money,” Sorkin said.
General Technologies, at 13022 Trinity Drive in Stafford, does business in 80 countries, according to Sorkin.
“We supply 78 percent of Texas routes to Panama Canal. I know public/private partnerships to grow the pie. The pie collapse. I’m all for your development, I want it to be successful. I just don’t want to give you my money. If you have a viable business model, go to the bank. If the bank won’t give you money, maybe you should not be in the city. Why are you strapping our city saying if we don’t give you money you will walk away?” Sorkin asked the developers.
Sorkin pooh-poohed the idea from city officials that times have changed and entities need to find creative ways to make their cities viable and attractive to increase sales tax.
“People should work hard. Should be no giveaways. Not from the fed, the state and definitely not from Stafford. If businesses rely on giveaway from city, they are not good business,” said Sorkin.
He also issued a warning.
“I am not the only business angry about this. If the business community will not like the city and will not exist, there will be no more City of Stafford,” said Sorkin.
Wiley also cautioned the room.
“This is not a giveaway but a partnership and it can’t be adversarial. We have to help each other,” Wiley said.
Former Stafford City Coucilwoman Felecia Evans-Smith returned to speak. She is now the chairwoman of the East Fort Bend County Development Authority. The project started when she was a council member, she said.
“I am passionate about this city. I am a resident, I love the city and we’ve got to grow,” she said. “Cities are surviving today, not on the backs of businesses. People, get educated. This didn’t just start yesterday. You have to trust the fact that you have elected officials who have done their homework. The economy has changed and I’m glad we don’ t have the outlet mall because we’d be in trouble like everybody else. We need to learn to agree and disagree and move on. You are a reflection of all of us.”
The developers expect to create up to 2,400 high-end residential units on that property with the possibility of an urban wrap that will have 600 units in the town center section, and 1,800 units of conventional apartments, in four different gated sections, east of the town center between the office/warehouses on the Murphy Road/FM1092 corridor.
The first section of units in a gated community is expected to be completed by the end of the year, said Stafford’s building director and zoning administrator, Chris Riggs.
The initial proposed called for an outlet mall but that has been shelved and it’ s just being described as “retail.”
Since contracts have not been signed, developers said there is great interest but they cannot release details until everything is finalized.