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COUNTY REJECTS HOTEL INCENTIVE

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Posted: Wednesday, October 25, 2017 12:00 pm

Unlike the city and the Bandera Economic Development Corp. before it, Bandera County Commissioners’ Court voted down a request to allow the developer of a proposed Best Western Hotels & Resorts facility to share the hotel taxes the project generates and use that money for hotel marketing costs.

Commissioners voted unanimously against agreeing to let Gene Liquori and the entity he has put together to develop the 46-room hotel on Main Street in Bandera use about half of the $60,000 in annual hotel occupancy taxes the county could collect from the new hotel a year on marketing expenses for the hotel.

County Judge Richard Evans said his opposition to the development incentive was not because he opposed a hotel coming to Bandera.  But he and Commissioner Bobby Harris said they opposed the tax sharing proposal because it was treating one hotel owner differently from other hotel owners who had not applied for or received any incentives.

“It’s an equity thing with me,” said Harris.

Other commissioners were not comfortable with a multiple year commitment of tax funds to the developer, did not want to reduce the revenue that could be available to the Bandera County Convention & Visitors Bureau to market events  in the county and did not feel the money the county would contribute to the incentives package would have much impact on the project’s success or failure.

The county was the last governmental entity approached to participate in the financial incentives for the planned hotel, and Art Crawford, president of the EDC board, who requested the contribution from the county, did not feel the county’s decision would jeopardize the hotel development.

“I feel like the project will move forward,” said Crawford after the vote. “It’s still a good deal even with the county making the decision it did.  We’ll figure out a way to make it work.”

Liquori was out of the country and was not available to comment at the commissioners’ meeting on Monday.

A new hotel on Main Street has been under consideration for years but has never succeeded in pulling together an incentives plan that was acceptable to the developer and to the governmental entities that are paying for the incentives.

Liquori and his one-time partner Gene Hartman came back in June with a new incentive plan for a 36,000-square-foot Best Western hotel that would cost almost $4.9 million to build.

The incentives package has been pared down considerably since then, eliminating the request for $1 million in city-financed bonds for hotel and for $420,000 from the EDC over 10 years to lease the conference center the hotel is expected to build so the EDC would take charge of leasing the center.

Crawford said the incentives authorized by City Council and the EDC are less than half of what originally were proposed while still giving the city and the EDC more control over the way the hotel looks, whether Bandera people are employed there and other operational details.

The EDC provided the developer with $120,000 over 10 years for an employee training package to train one  resident from Bandera County a year in the hospitality trade and another $120,000 for infrastructure upgrades that commit Liquori to designing to designing a hotel that is compatible with the Old West feel of Bandera and that would include a rainwater catchment system for its irrigation purposes, would use porous concrete to keep storm runoff at a minimum and would meet Dark Skies standards in its lighting.

A public hearing should be held on those incentives in the coming weeks, and City Council needs to endorse the expenditures.

City Council’s commitment to the hotel’s incentive package includes a $225,000 grant it obtained to get water and sewer services to the hotel and other infrastructure improvements completed and a marketing deal that returns all of the hotel occupancy taxes the city expects to generate from the hotel to the developer over 10 years to promote the hotel and the city and county of Bandera.

The city also agreed to a program that will reimburse the property taxes of the hotel to the developer on a declining basis, starting at 100 percent of the property taxes and falling to 10 percent of the taxes in year 10.

In return, the developer has agreed to employ at least nine people at the hotel, seven of whom live in Bandera County, to keep the Best Western brand on the hotel for 10 years unless it obtains council’s approval for a change, not to least the commercial space included in the hotel to a national chain unless he obtains council’s approval and to employ sustainable development techniques at the hotel.

The water and sewer connection and permitting fees the developer pays to the city also will be reimbursed to the developer, except those fees the city has to pay a contractor to complete, once the hotel obtains a certificate of occupancy.

Officials have been hustling to get the incentives package completed because work on the hotel must start next month for the grant the city obtained for the project to remain active.  The current schedule calls for the hotel to be in operation by 2019.

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