March 24, 2008

Take this 2,000 acre development and shove it!

Let me preface this with the fact that I like development. Not just new construction or renovations of existing buildings, but economic development. I especially like the kind that promises to create a massive number of jobs in our community. There is, however, one thing that'll make me turn into a zero growth nut. That's when developers come 'round asking for tax breaks and abatements and claiming that it's the only way they can bring their project to Austin.

Really? Do you want a virgin to consummate the deal as well?

Seriously, this crap about Villa Muse is about as retarded as I've ever seen. First off, the developers are taking over 2,000 acres in a developing area of Travis County, which just happens to be part of Austin's ETJ. What the developers want is to have that removed from taxation and zoning requirements, effectively reverting the land back to county control and keeping it from being annexed by the city. Not to mention that it would keep it out of city environmental oversight, which is exactly why the city shot down the proposal.

Some council members said the city could not be guaranteed that it would be able to eventually annex the property even if the developers signed an agreement. Leffingwell and Kim were also worried about the lack of environmental oversight of the floodplain remediation that would be necessary and the proposed construction of the studio so close to Gilleland Creek.

All this, of course, has Dawnna Dukes all upset...

Dukes wrote that Villa Muse would have been a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the Central Texas area, especially Eastern Travis County.”

“Your decision to deny the temporary release of Villa Muse from the city’s Extra Territorial Jurisdiction takes certain financing options off the table, thus making the project financially unfeasible” and probably ensuring its relocation to a different city, she wrote.

Dukes said she questioned whether environmental concerns were the real reason the council members decided refused to support the project, given that the council is considering building a landfill and wastewater treatment plant in Eastern Travis County.

She asked the council members to reconsider their decision: “This project will succeed somewhere in Texas. It would be ideal to have it here.”

First off, Dawnna, it's a mixed us development not unlike The Domain whose developers WERE able to talk the city into questionable tax breaks(which folks are even now trying to get rid of). Therefore, it's nothing special. Oh, there's the 70k seat amphitheater that's a huge risk in a town where people will squeeze 100 per square foot into some shitty club to hear some shitty band play shitty music.

And you're wrong, Dawnna. This project will only really succeed here. There really aren't too many other areas of Texas where this can succeed. Maybe in Irving and if the developers want to pick up and move to the artistic hotbed of Irving, they are more than welcome. Have at it, fellas!

As for the project being financially unfeasible, you wouldn't know if it was or wasn't, Dawnna. If their margins were soooo thin that only a tax break put them into the black, then this is really a blessing in disguise. The City Council just saved us from another nightmare because if their finances were THAT flimsy, odds are the developers would have gone bust during construction. Three strikes of stupid on this, Dawnna...

1) You chastise people who clearly have a better understanding of this than you.
2) You fight hard for developers with questionable financing (and who, by the way, was underwriting this package? USB? Lehman? Southwest?).
3) You talk about tax abatements as if they're some sort of economic panacea (which they aren't).

Needless to say, this or something like it is going to happen in this area with or without the wonderful developers who've given Dawnna so much over the years. The developers, for their part, are of threatening to take their toys and move on...

The backers of a proposed entertainment studio and production facility in eastern Travis County say they are negotiating with other Texas cities to move the project after Austin officials refused to temporarily release the project from its regulatory grasp.

Villa Muse Vice President Paul Alvarado-Dykstra would not reveal which other cities the developers are negotiating with but said there was more than one and all were in Texas.

"We haven't closed the door on Austin, but we kind of feel like Austin closed the door on us last Thursday," he said.

Ahhh... so long, fuckball. Try playing your financial shell game with a muni that's controlled by short sighted stupid people.

And here, my friends, is why I'm supporting Jennifer Kim for re-election...

Last week, state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, who represents the area, sent a scathing letter to Mayor Will Wynn and Council Members Betty Dunkerley, Jennifer Kim and Lee Leffingwell, all of whom voted against the release.

Kim and Leffingwell said they were not surprised by the developers' decision to pursue other locations and are not inclined to revisit releasing the land anytime soon.

"It is unfortunate that they are not going to locate here, but we need to make sure that we are protecting our environment and our quality of life," Kim said. "In this case, we couldn't assure that to our constituents."

Translation... you aren't going to get something for nothing. If you want play in Austin, you have to pay just like everyone else. Either that or we'll steal your idea and do it ourselves.

We're mean like that.

Last point then I promise I'll move on to something exciting, the people who really get screwed with abatements are the existing property base. See, development needs infrastructure and services. Even if the developer is paying for the internal roads, power grid and water/wastewater systems, the external hookups will have to upgraded and city facilities will have to be ungraded to take care on the additional burden. That costs money and frankly I don't think any of us mind paying it.

As long as the new development starts paying taxes just like the rest of us. If not, then you're wasting our time and our money. Come back when you have have the wherewithal to do things the right way.

Posted by mcblogger at March 24, 2008 10:59 AM

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I wouldn't call this anything remotely like the Domain - the Domain turned a brownfield into a good example of urban development where people actually live now, and pay Austin taxes - a lot more taxes than we got before (even with the abatement).

Posted by: mdahmus [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 24, 2008 01:26 PM

Way to miss the point, as always.


Posted by: mcblogger [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 24, 2008 08:26 PM

Obviously I don't think so. Maybe colored by the fact that I worked across the street for the better part of a decade while IBM tried desperately to find a buyer for the site.

Posted by: mdahmus [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 25, 2008 05:40 PM

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