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Dynamo Stadium

East Enders appeal to El Franco

As we know, the main holdup with the proposed East End location for Dynamo Stadium is that County Commissioner El Franco Lee, in whose precinct the stadium site mostly sits, has not indicated that he intends to put the issue on the Court’s agenda. At this week’s meeting, he heard from some constituents who want to see this move forward.

Residents of the Houston East End said Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee was the key to the construction of a stadium for the Major League Soccer team Houston Dynamo — and accused him of stalling the project.

“Without the Dynamo I don’t think [this area] can survive,” said Khen Ly, the owner of the Kim Sung supermarket, east of Downtown Houston.

Residents pushed Harris County commissioners to sign off on the project Tuesday morning, but Lee refused to take a stand when pressed by East End resident Marilu De La Fuente.

“Mister [Lee], you are known as the Godfather,” she said. “I know know you will do the right thing.”

Much of the 12-acre site proposed for the stadium sits in Lee’s county precinct. He has stayed quiet on the subject for months. Again on Tuesday, he dodged reporters who wanted to ask him about his position.

It would be nice to have some idea of what Commissioner Lee’s reluctance is all about so that it might be addressed if possible, but he has never said. This is Senate-quality dithering here. All I can say to those of you in the area is to keep up the pressure. One presumes that sooner or later he’ll feel the need to deal with it. Thanks to Houstonist for the link.

“There’s no such thing as a project like this without public money”

Dynamo President Oliver Luck throws a little cold water on the claims that a Westpark Stadium could be built exclusively with private funding.

“We have not been presented a plan by the Midway Companies,” Luck said. “I can’t say whether there’s ‘no public money’ involved.

“We (the Dynamo) won’t talk to the city or county about this deal — we have pushed that responsibility to Midway. We know what our conditions are, and basically, it’s replicating the financial structure of the downtown deal. That’s sort of a threshhold question. If they can do that, we’ll go ahead. If they can’t, it won’t happen.”

[…]

Midway recently completed a major mixed-use development in the Memorial area, City Centre, where there is a TIRZ — a tax increment reinvestment zone — in place with the city of Houston, that reinvests some property taxes into infrastructure improvements to help spur development.

Sources familiar with the Midway proposal say it is relying on extending a similar TIRZ in the Uptown/Galleria area, which ends at Highway 59, to encompass the Midway property south of Westpark.

That was news to John Breeding, who serves as executive director of both the Uptown TIRZ and Uptown Development Authority, who said neither agency is involved and is waiting to hear more.

Which comes around, again, to Oliver Luck, who knows a thing or two about stadiums from his four years as CEO of the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority. “There’s always infrastructure involved, public services that need to be provided,” he said. “There’s no such thing as a project like this without public money.”

Well, yeah. As I’ve said all along, it’s a matter of how much money the city and maybe the county would have to invest to make this happen, and whether or not that would wind up being less than what the East End stadium would require. Until there’s a real proposal on the table, we can’t make that evaluation. In the meantime, claims about “private financing” just distort the picture.

It should also be noted that the East End stadium deal is much farther along, and really just needs buy in from County Commissioners El Franco Lee and Sylvia Garcia. That deal could be completed quickly if they signed off on it. Residents in the area, who are facing the prospect that the city might view the location as suitable for a new jail facility if the stadium deal falls through, are pushing for it to get done. There’s no organized opposition to the East End proposal, while the Westpark concept would have to overcome pushback from Bellaire Mayor Cindy Siegel and possibly others. The bottom line is that if any stadium deal happens, the East End is still the heavy favorite to be the choice. David Ortez has more.

Finally, on a related note, freshman Bellaire City Council Member Corbett Parker, who has expressed support for the Westpark location and who is a friend of Oliver Luck, explains his relationship with Luck and the Dynamo.

Bellaire versus Westpark Stadium

Still more on the proposed Westpark location for Dynamo Stadium: The Mayor of Bellaire doesn’t like the idea.

[Bellaire Mayor Cindy] Siegel has scheduled an executive session of the Bellaire City Council Monday following the 7 p.m. State of the City address and indicated she’s optimistic other councilmembers will join her in opposing the 20,000-seat stadium that would reportedly double as a concert venue and feature a 3,000-vehicle parking structure.

“I would hope council would see the negative impact and would listen to residents, who I’m already hearing from by e-mail,” Siegel told the Examiner.

In that interview, she called the plans by the Midway Companies “a betrayal of the vision” that had been worked out among Bellaire, Metro, Thompson + Hanson Nursery and Midway. Those parties had funded an architect’s conceptual plan for a transit-oriented development at the location, in the southwest corner of the 610/59 intersection, bordered on the north by Westpark Drive.

But [County Commissioner Steve] Radack says Bellaire doesn’t have to sign off on the deal, and that he sees support for the private funding.

“Bellaire does not have jurisdiction over any of this…If this deal gets worked out then there will be a whole lot of citizens a lot happier by seeing private money being spent than public money being spent,” he told the Examiner’s Steve Mark.

Sounds an awful lot like Radack is telling Siegel to sit down and shut up. It’s true that this location is not inside Bellaire, but it’s right next to the boundary line, and for sure a stadium there would have an effect, mostly negative, on Bellaire. Mayor Siegel’s letter to Midway CEO Brad Freels lays it out:

Quite frankly, Brad, I have to tell you that I was blindsided by your company’s proposal to use your land at S. Rice and Westpark for a Dynamo stadium. This proposal is completely contrary to what was envisioned for the transit oriented development that included your property and the Bellaire Research and Development District (RDD) when Bellaire, Metro, Thompson and Hanson, and Midway shared the cost of an architect to develop a conceptual plan for a transit oriented development at this location. As I have stated at every joint meeting that your company has attended with Metro and City of Bellaire officials – our primary concern has always been to protect the integrity of the Bellaire residential neighborhood directly south of this site, in addition to protecting the interests of the Bellaire property owners in the RDD.

In reviewing your plans further over the weekend and driving by the site Monday during the day and rush hour traffic in the evening. I cannot see any benefit to locating a soccer stadium (that would also be used as an outdoor entertainment facility) at your site. I believe strongly that the proposed stadium site on your property has serious limitations and will have an extremely negative impact to the residential Bellaire and Houston neighborhoods that adjoin your property and the RDD. As we discussed, the S. Rice and Westpark intersection already experiences significant delays due to traffic backups. (This traffic problem has been discussed several times in prior meetings regarding the placement of a Metro Rail transit station here.) Additionally, traffic backs from Fournace on the 610 Feeder road up to Westpark daily during evening rush hour. A stadium at this site would just increase exponentially what is already a significant traffic problem!

Additionally, there is an existing traffic problem at the 610 and 59 interchange that has been a tremendous drain on emergency personnel responding to accidents that would be compounded further if the stadium was built on your site. Bellaire and Houston emergency personnel (but primarily Bellaire) already respond s several times a day to accidents at this location. To add stadium traffic to what is already a horrible problem would be a financial and manpower resource burden that Bellaire cannot accommodate.

My in-laws live near there, so I can attest to the traffic issues in that area from personal experience. I do think that the University line will help to abate that somewhat, but it won’t be enough. Besides, last I checked that area wasn’t very walkable, so either parking is going to have to be right there, or a whole lot of money is going to have to be spent on infrastructure improvements. In response, Freels and Radack appear to be telling Mayor Siegel that she shouldn’t worry her little head about it.

The Midway site is in Radack’s Precinct 3.

“I think that that (Midway) area needs a shot in the arm and I believe when the Dynamo are playing, it’s not peak times for traffic,” Radack said.

Freels made much the same point.

“I think when she understands the plan in toto she’ll embrace it,” Freels said. “I wish she would have full information before she makes full judgment.”

Well, maybe if fuller information were available, we could all make fuller judgments, but how much more do you need to know to say this is going to affect traffic in that area? As for Radack’s pronouncement, looking through Dynamo schedules for past years (the 2010 schedule hasn’t been published yet), they have played most of their games on weekends. I don’t know if that’s been to accommodate UH, or if that’s just the norm. If that’s how it would be going forward, then it would lessen the impact somewhat, but the inclusion of retail properties on the site would have the opposite effect. Again, until someone does a study and produces a report, we’re all just guessing. I do remain convinced that none of this can happen without some public money being spent to improve the infrastructure around Midway, and as I said before, it’s not at all clear to me that this site would require less public spending than the east downtown one. It’s just too early to say. More on this from the Examiner here, with video from KTRK.

UPDATE: Bellaire City Council Member Corbett Parker has more.

More on the Dynamo’s Westpark option

Here’s an updated version of the earlier story about the Houston Dynamo and the possibility of their stadium being built on Westpark.

“The deal downtown started stalling a little bit. We started wondering if that stadium could make sense at this property,” said Brad Freels, chairman and CEO of Midway.

Freels envisions a 21,000-seat soccer and concert arena as part of a multi-use project on 30 acres the company owns at the intersection of Westpark Toll Road and South Rice. The property is just west of the 610 Loop, about a mile south of the Galleria.

Mayor Annise Parker said she has been briefed on the plan.

“It is a completely privately financed alternative, which I’m glad to see on the table,” she said. “This is an excellent option that takes the city taxpayers largely or completely out of the loop on this.”

Parker noted that the city would consider contributing infrastructure work or tax abatements to the Midway development, just as it would any other large project.

The main difference seems to me to be that the land for the downtown site was bought by the city, while this site is owned by Midway. I feel confident that it’s still the case that the city would need to contribute in some form, as noted by Mayor Parker. It’s just a question of how much, and as I said before I think traffic will be a bigger issue at this location, so the infrastructure work may well be more expensive as well. I hope we get a handle on that before any commitments are made.

The Dynamo contemplate their options

Is the future of Dynamo Stadium on Westpark? Could be.

Dynamo President Oliver Luck is in talks with a developer about building a soccer stadium on private land about a mile south of the Galleria.

The Dynamo have not abandoned plans to build on a 12 acres of city-owned land downtown, Luck said.

But the Midway Companies approached Luck recently with a concept that would put the stadium in the midst of a 30-acre mixed-used development just west of Loop 610.

“They have not yet presented a full-blown plan to us,” Luck said. “It’s an interesting location and certainly worth looking at.”

Swamplot had the first inklings of this, while Miya, Prime Property, and Hair Balls have more. The good news is that this location appears to be near a University Line station. The bad news is that vehicular access is pretty limited, and I would expect traffic getting in and out to suck. I’d call this better than nothing, but not better than the downtown location. If as Hair Balls indicates, however, that Commissioners Court considers this to be the city’s baby and not any of their business, then it may get serious consideration. I just wonder, if it comes to that, how much money the city and/or county will have to spend at that location to make it viable, not just for a soccer stadium but for that 30-acre mixed use development. The roads are narrow, there are no sidewalks, and I’d bet drainage will be an issue. Midway CEO Brad Freels may say he likes doing things through the private sector, but I don’t see him putting up the cash to fix those things. I think it’s fair to wonder not just if this is a better deal for the Dynamo, but if this is any better a deal for Houston and Harris County than downtown would be.

Dynamo fans rally for the stadium

There was a rally by Houston Dynamo fans over the weekend in support of getting the stadium deal done. Hair Balls and the Chron’s Glenn Davis have coverage. From what I can see, it looks to me like the ralliers have the right idea. From the Chron:

“This is the best stadium deal that has ever been presented in the city of Houston,” says Dynamo fan and local attorney Eric Nordstrom. “At a time of great uncertainty, the club stands ready to pour $60 million of its own money into the stadium. Opponents often insist if the club wants a new stadium they should pay for it themselves. That is exactly what the Dynamo are trying to do.”

That’s the message I would push if I were them. It’s been clear for some time now that the opposition to the stadium is from folks who believe that the city and/or county are proposing to spend millions of dollars on the construction, which isn’t the case at all. I think you have to bat that idea down to make some progress on it. Which isn’t to say that opponents would naturally favor the TIRZ approach, but at least then you can be arguing about what is actually on the table.

From Hair Balls:

According to Nordstrom, this rally was the first of three they hope to organize. The supporters hope to hear from team officials and political leaders at the next rally, namely Mayor Annise Parker and County Commissioners Sylvia Garcia and El Franco Lee. The next rally is scheduled on Saturday, February 20.

Those are the people they need to be focusing on, especially the latter two. My advice would be to do the old-fashioned letter-writing campaign, and to get people to attend Commissioners Court meetings and speak up for the TIRZ deal during open comments as well. I wish them luck in their pursuit.

Post-election Dynamo Stadium update

So where do we stand with Dynamo Stadium now that the Mayoral election is over? Pretty much where we were before it, actually.

Of the MLS teams pushing for a stadium, the Dynamo appear closest to the goal. Team ownership hopes to strike a deal with the city of Houston and Harris County for a 22,000-seat, $80 million venue just east of U.S. 59 downtown.

Under a proposal backed by Houston mayor Bill White, the Dynamo would contribute nearly $60 million to the project, with the city and county each contributing $10 million in redevelopment money. The money would come from a tax increment reinvestment zone.

Mayor-elect Annise Parker has said she supports the proposal.

“She’s OK with the amount of money the city is willing to invest” provided the county puts in its share, Janice Evans-Davis, Parker’s spokeswoman, said Monday. “She is not OK with putting any additional city dollars (into the project).”

County Judge Ed Emmett is optimistic a deal will be reached. But the proposal has yet to see the light of day at Commissioners Court despite more than a year of negotiations among the county, city and team.

Efforts to reach County Commissioner El Franco Lee, whose Precinct 1 would house the majority of the stadium, were unsuccessful.

Commissioner Sylvia Garcia is also involved, as the parts of the stadium that aren’t in Lee’s precinct are in hers. The ball is in their court. If they want this to happen, it will, and if they don’t, it won’t. The question then becomes what if anything will the Dynamo do after that. Will they try to come up with a different scheme, or will they look to pull up stakes and relocate again? If they threaten the latter – and note that they may reconsider suburban options, as Sugar Land is still thinking about sports stadia, even if it’s for a different sport. Would a threat to leave change things one way or another? It wouldn’t shock me to find out. Campos has more.

The Dynamo Stadium issue in the Mayor’s race

Moving away for the moment from ridiculous homophobic scare tactics in the Mayor’s race runoff to an issue of actual substance, we have the matter of the Dynamo Stadium deal and where the respective candidates stand on it.

[Annise] Parker supports the deal as structured by [Mayor Bill] White — in which, her campaign says, the city will recoup some costs for the land.

“She remains firmly opposed to any additional taxpayer dollars going to the Dynamo project, and will not entertain any new stadium projects, especially during these tough economic times. If the county does not do its part, then all bets are off,” according to a statement released by her campaign.

[Gene] Locke, too, pledges not to use property tax money, but he argues that a stadium built with mostly private money is something the city can’t afford not to pursue.

“This stadium will anchor development on the east side of town and help improve Houston’s economy at no additional cost to taxpayers,” Locke said in a statement released by his campaign. Locke supports the three-way $80 million plan, according to the statement, and also intends to negotiate for the city to be reimbursed for land costs.

I wouldn’t go quite as far as Bob Stein does in saying that the difference between the two is “politics, not policy”. As I see it, the place where they do differ is in the event that the county fails to pick up its share of the tab. My interpretation of their stated positions is that Parker may or may not pursue a different deal of some kind, whereas Locke would. One can certainly make the case that Locke, who has an extensive background with this kind of dealmaking – for good and for not so good – and who has the so-far-not-committed-to-Mayor-White’s-deal Commissioner El Franco Lee firmly in his camp, is in the stronger position to close this thing once and for all. That’s kind of a nuanced argument to make on a flyer handed out at a soccer game, and given the public’s limited understanding of the status of the actual deal, which if the comments on this Houston Politics post are at all indicative basically boils down to “Locke wants to spend money on a new stadium and Parker doesn’t”, it’s far from clear that this would be a net positive for him anyway. Be that as it may, I think it’s fair to say that if you really want to see a Dynamo Stadium get built, Locke is your candidate, and if you don’t really care all that much you probably prefer Parker.

That’s assuming the issue is critical to how you vote, of course. The Chron quotes one devoted fan for whom it is, and it’s certainly possible there are others like her. Whether there’s more of them than there are people who would vote the other way is not clear to me. It’s still worth a shot for Locke, and it’s certainly a preferable way to try to win than some other approaches.

Interview with Council Member James Rodriguez

James Rodriguez

James Rodriguez

Next we have Council Member James Rodriguez, who is serving his first term in District I. He’s been busy on a number of fronts, including the construction of the Harrisburg light rail line and the pending Dynamo Stadium deal, as well as becoming a father for the first time in August. Rodriguez is unopposed this November.

Download the MP3 file.

PREVIOUSLY:

Karen Derr, At Large #1
Brad Bradford, At Large #4
Stephen Costello, At Large #1
Lane Lewis, District A
Lonnie Allsbrooks, At Large #1
Noel Freeman, At Large #4
Brenda Stardig, District A
Oliver Pennington, District G
Amy Peck, District A
Herman Litt, At Large #1
Natasha Kamrani, HISD Trustee in District I, not running for re-election
Alex Wathen, District A
Robert Kane, District F
Council Member Melissa Noriega, At Large #3
Jeff Downing, District A
Mike Laster, District F
Council Member Jolanda Jones, At Large #5
Mills Worsham, District G
Rick Rodriguez, At Large #1
Council Member Sue Lovell, At Large #2
Carlos Obando, At Large #5
Richard Sedita, District G
Jack Christie, At Large #5
Dexter Handy, District G
George Foulard, District G
Alma Lara, HISD Trustee District I
Anna Eastman, HISD Trustee District I
Linda Toyota, HISD Trustee District I
Council Member Ed Gonzalez, District H
Council Member Wanda Adams, District D
Council Member Anne Clutterbuck, District C
Progressive Coalition candidates
Council Member Mike Sullivan, District E

Parker’s first ad

And Annise Parker wins the race to be the first candidate not named Peter Brown to air a TV ad in the Mayor’s race. Here it is:

And my reaction is…eh. That’s more about me than anything else, as public safety-themed ads just don’t move me. I admit that places me squarely in the minority, as it seems this is the issue that concerns most voters this year, but there you have it. I think it’s a pretty good spot as far as these things go – Parker does a good job speaking directly to the audience, highlighting her accomplishments in office, which as the candidate with the most electoral experience is her strength. There’s no razzle-dazzle, but that would have been out of place in an ad like this. I don’t care for the “I won’t raise taxes” bit, as I believe no candidate is in a position to make that promise (not that this has stopped any of them), and I’m not sure what “sports stadiums we don’t need” she plans to fight against, as the city’s part of the Dynamo Stadium deal – purchasing the land – is already done. The swipe at Gene Locke (Parker also won’t support “museums we don’t need”) is subtle enough that I daresay 98% of the people who view the ad will miss it. Frankly, I’d have left most of that stuff out, as I think it clutters up the spot. Greg, who highlights a bit from Parker’s accompanying press release about the ad that explains some of this, agrees with me on this. I’ve put the release beneath the fold.

Overall, I’d give the ad a B. It does what it intends to do, which is associate Parker with public safety, which by being first to air has the side effect of stepping on one of Locke’s main messages, and it leverages her biggest strength, which is her experience. Not the ad I would have written, but there’s probably a good reason they didn’t ask me for that. Stace, musings, Miya and Houston Politics have more. What do you think?

UPDATE: Turns out, according to Campos, that Locke has been running ads on the radio. Like him, I had no idea about this and had not received a release about them, so that’s all I know.

UPDATE: Nancy Sims weighs in.

(more…)

Election tidbits for 9/22

More stuff that’s worth a mention.

– The deadline to register to vote in the 2009 election is Monday, October 5. Towards that end, Texans Together will be holding a voter registration drive this Saturday, September 26, at various locations around the city. If you want to participate, please contact Dee at 281-702-7864 or e mail dee.young@texanstogether.org.

– HISD District I candidate Alma Lara has a new website.

– City Controller candidate Pam Holm has been making robocalls. Personally, I’d advise sending mail now (if you can afford it, which she ought to be able to do), and saving the robocalls for the GOTV effort later. But then no one asked me.

– Along those lines, Peter Brown is making robocalls as well. I know this because there was a voice mail of such a call on my work number this morning. I don’t know how that number got onto anyone’s list. Maybe they were just dialing every number in town.

– Not at all campaign related, but my neighbor Mark Strawn, who was badly injured in a car accident two years ago, has been making huge strides in his physical therapy. His wife Sabrina recently sent out an email asking for support for SIRE, Houston’s therapeutic equestrian center, which has so helped Mark in his recovery. I’ve reproduced the email beneath the fold, and you can click here when you’re done reading it to give them a hand.

Purple Texas writes about Hank Gilbert and his nascent campaign for Governor. Maybe it’s just the city boy in me, but I can’t say I’ve ever felt a longing for a liberal-disguised-as-a-redneck to save us all. Which isn’t to say that Hank couldn’t win next year with that formula. It’s just that I’d support him in spite of his rural roots, not because of them.

– District G candidate Richard Sedita sent out a press release in support of the current efforts to build a stadium east of downtown for the Houston Dynamo.

– The Texas Tribune invites you to take a look inside their office:

– I cannot begin to express how little sympathy I have for poor widdle Rick Perry and that dirty trick that that mean old Senator Hutchison pulled on him. Karma is a remarkable thing, isn’t it?

UPDATE: Phillip says what needs to be said regarding Rick Perry and this incident.

(more…)

More on the city-county TIRZ deal

The Chron does a kind of big picture overview story of the city-county TIRZ deal that we heard about earlier this week.

If successful, the months-long negotiations between the city and Harris County could provide a solution for problems that have vexed both sides for years, including redevelopment of the Reliant Astrodome, construction of a new jail and a new professional soccer stadium.

But that could be a very big if, according to numerous city and county officials. All the factors that led the two bodies to disagree before are still at play, as well as a new wrinkle: that the success of the plans would depend on the use of tax increment reinvestment zones, or TIRZs, a financing vehicle typically used more to generate economic development than pay for major capital projects.

“I’ve never been a big fan of the TIRZ,” said County Judge Ed Emmett, who said he will wait to see the completed proposal before deciding whether to support it. “It assumes that property values are going to go up and are going to be worth a certain amount, but as we’ve seen with the downturn in the economy, maybe it doesn’t work out the way it’s supposed to work out.”

Emmett said the public must be assured that the use of TIRZs is not just a means to circumvent a public bond election, given that one of the possible projects that could come from the negotiations — a new jail — was rejected by voters last year.

[…]

The city-county proposal involves four TIRZs: two that already exist near downtown and two the city would create for use by Harris County. City and county officials stressed that the negotiations have been dynamic and that the TIRZs are really more of a mechanism for development possibilities.

The first step, and the most advanced in the negotiations, would be for the county to join the East Downtown TIRZ near the George R. Brown Convention Center. Using TIRZ tax money and bond proceeds, the city and county would pay $20 million for the infrastructure improvements around a new soccer stadium for the Houston Dynamo that also could be used by Texas Southern University. The stadium itself, which would be jointly owned by the city and county, would be built by the Dynamo with $60 million in private funds.

The second element involves the county joining one existing TIRZ and the city creating another, both in the general downtown area. Tax revenue and bond sales would not be committed to any specific project but eventually could be used for a new county administration building or joint booking facility that would allow the city to close its two jails. The city has budgeted $33 million for the joint booking center in its five-year capital improvement plan.

The last element would be the creation of a TIRZ around the area of Reliant Stadium that eventually could include the redevelopment of the Astrodome. The area, close to the booming Texas Medical Center, is likely to see numerous major development projects when the economy picks up steam again, city and county officials said.

The Dynamo Stadium deal, which has been in the works for over two years now, should be straightforward and non-controversial. If Commissioners Lee and Garcia, in whose precincts the affected area is, want this to happen, it will happen. The jail stuff, you know the score. If it’s simply a replacement facility, I’m okay with the idea; if it’s an expansion, I’m not. Who knows what the Dome stuff will be about, but I do agree that the area, which has already seen a lot of new development projects, will continue to be very active. We’ll see what the details are and what they do with it.

A city-county threefer?

In case you were wondering why there didn’t seem to be any progress in making a Dynamo Stadium deal, it appears the reason for that is there will be much more to it than just a stadium deal.

The city of Houston and Harris County are negotiating a deal that could pave the way for construction of a new soccer stadium, a new jail and the redevelopment of the Astrodome, according to officials taking part in the talks.

The negotiations, which have been under way for several months and are reaching their final stage, focus on the use of tax increment reinvestment zones, or TIRZ, as vehicles for the major capital projects.

“We’re in the home stretch,” said David Turkel, director of the county’s community services department, who has played a key role in the talks. “I hope that we could get all of this done as one package before the end of the year, within the current administrations.”

Turkel said the concept is ideal for the county because it allows major expenditures on capital projects without using general funds or necessitating a tax increase to pay for the debt such projects would require. It also allows the county to sell bonds without voter approval.

The city’s motivation in the discussions is to win two concessions: county participation in a TIRZ established to build a stadium for the Dynamo, Houston’s Major League Soccer team, as well as a new detention facility that would be operated by the county and replace the city’s two jails, which a court-appointed inspector recently said must be replaced soon because of poor conditions. A bond referendum to fund a similar facility that would have been run by Harris County was defeated by voters last year.

The county would in turn use tax increments from city-created TIRZs to borrow money that would make possible numerous major capital projects including the jail or other detention facilities, a new downtown administration building with an underground garage, a new cemetery for the indigent and as much as $1 million a year for homeless housing.

Quite a bit there, no? I’ve been supportive of a Dynamo Stadium deal and am glad to see it coming to fruition. I really had no idea what was taking the county so long on this, as the TIRZ plan struck me as being a pretty small commitment for Commissioners Court to make.

It’s not clear what this all has to do with the Astrodome other than a new TIRZ being created by the city for the county around the Dome. The story doesn’t say anything more about the Dome than that.

As for the jail stuff, I’ll say it again: If we’re just talking about building a replacement facility for the city, I’m okay with that, at least in theory. If this is a back-door way to add more jail space as a “solution” to the overcrowding problem, it’s completely unacceptable. It’s all in the deails, and if this really is going to be a transparent process as promised in the story, we need to know those details as soon as possible. At least we know that any specific future project would have to be approved by Commissioners Court.

Finally, Grits says this is a misuse of the TIRZ statute, which suggests to me the possibility of a lawsuit. That would change the calculus even if this is only for a city jail replacement. Can any lawyers comment on that?

MLS All Star Game coming to Houston

Nice.

As the MLS All-Stars prepare to take on English Premier League club Everton in Wednesday’s MLS All-Star Game in Sandy, Utah, the league announced Monday that Houston will host the 2010 edition.

“The city of Houston has consistently and fervently supported the Dynamo and other high-profile soccer events in recent years,” said MLS commissioner Don Garber, who joined Dynamo president Oliver Luck in Park City, Utah, for the announcement. “Houston will be a tremendous site for the 2010 MLS All-Star Game, and we are pleased to reward its vibrant soccer community with the week of festivities that surround this marquee event.”

The date, opponent and venue for the event — either Robertson Stadium, home to the Dynamo, or the much bigger Reliant Stadium — will be announced at a later date.

[…]

The Dynamo had been pushing for either an MLS All-Star Game or an MLS Cup final since the team relocated from San Jose, Calif.

Still, Luck said the selection caught the team somewhat by surprise, considering it is one of the few MLS clubs without a stadium of its own.

“We knew we were operating at a disadvantage,” said Luck, whose team has been negotiating a stadium deal with the city of Houston and Harris County for more than 11/2 years. “I think this shows MLS has really warmed up to Houston.”

Most other leagues would have said something like “When you build the stadium, you’ll get the event”. You don’t think it’s a coincidence or a run of good luck that we got the Super Bowl and the MLB and NBA All Star Games in recent years, do you? In the meantime, I hope this game is at Reliant. I’d buy a ticket for that. Congrats to the Dynamo for getting this done.

The squiggle

So now we know that the new soccer stadium is likely to happen, even though Commissioners Court continues to take its sweet time about it. We know that the new light rail lines, including the Southeast and Harrisburg lines, are on their way soon as well. And we know that these two things together will cause a break in the downtown traffic grid that needs to be addressed. The good news is that there’s a way to do this that will benefit both rail and automotive traffic. Christof has the details.

Dynamo moving forward

Dynamo Stadium has been in the works for a long time, but depending on how things go this month, there might be some light at the end of the tunnel.

[T]he Dynamo view this month as pivotal in their quest to go from a routine archeological dig to a bowl excavation and from renderings to the real thing — all the while staying on schedule and on budget.

“May is a make-or-break month,” [team president Oliver] Luck said. “In the sense that it is important we get into this building by 2011.

“To use a soccer analogy, we’re in extra time now.”

The Dynamo want to have the roughly $85 million, 22,000-seat stadium ready for opening day 2011. They envision an all-round two-level, all-seater venue with 34 suites, 86 concession point-of-sales, a 3,000 square-foot club level and a party deck on the southeast corner.

[…]

For it to be ready on schedule, work on the 16- to 18-month project would have to start no later than this fall.

For that to happen, Luck said, the team will need to complete its financing package agreement with the city and have the county, by way of Commissioners Court, vote in favor of contributing $10 million to the project (an amount similar to what the city would contribute) by joining the city’s East Downtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, which includes the site.

“No one wants to commit until all the financing is lined up,” Luck said.

[…]

The Dynamo could check the city off their to-do list this month. The city and team ownership have concurred the parties are close on most points. Getting the county on board might take longer. Though discussions are ongoing, there has been no signal from the county commissioners suggesting the issue will be added to Commissioners Court agenda any time soon.

The good news for the Dynamo is that they secured the financing to cover the city and county’s share of the price, which will be rebated to them in the form of TIRZ revenues, assuming both bodies approve that plan. Because of that, they should be in a position to go forward even if Commissioners Court drags its feet. Seems like this has already gone on forever, but the end is getting closer.

Dynamo Stadium funding almost secured

Another step forward for Dynamo Stadium.

Dynamo ownership has all but secured all of the financing needed for the construction of an $80-million soccer stadium just east of downtown and plans to break ground on the project as early as this fall.

“We have some I’s to dot and t’s to cross, but things are looking very favorable,” Dynamo president Oliver Luck said Tuesday. “It’s not a done deal, but the principal points have been agreed upon.”

Dynamo co-owners Anschutz Entertainment Group, Brener International and boxer/promoter Oscar De La Hoya have secured financing totalling about $20 million on behalf of the City of Houston and Harris County through Spanish bank BBVA/Compass.

The development clears the way for city council and commissioner’s court to put the stadium item on their respective agendas.

Both government entities have committed tax increment reinvestment zone revenue streams to the project provided the Dynamo could find a bank to provide financing up front, Luck said.

“We spent about three months talking to banks,” Luck said. “Given the economic climate, finding a bank was a challenge, so we are appreciative of BBVA/Compass.”

Dynamo ownership has pledged $55-60 million in private funding for the proposed 20,000 capacity facility stadium to be located near the intersection of Texas and Dowling, just east of downtown and U.S. 59.

KHOU has more.

[The Stadium] will seat 21,000 fans and will have around 35 suites.

The Dynamo say they hope to keep the average ticket price under $20.

Construction will begin in the fall and is expected to take about 18 months.

That would enable them to be in place for the 2011 season. If they’re really lucky, there will be a functioning light rail line with stops right in front by then. That may have to wait till 2012, however.

There are still hurdles to overcome – the money isn’t in hand yet, and the whole thing still needs Council approval and the TIRZ funding from Commissioners Court – but those pieces will likely fall into place. Of course, I thought things would be settled a year ago, so don’t go counting any chickens just yet.

UPDATE: Today’s version of this story indicates that Commissioners Court is still an obstacle.

Commissioner El Franco Lee, whose Precinct 1 would house most of the stadium, said no agreement is in place.

“There is nothing that I’m about to put on the agenda at all,” Lee said. “There’s nothing happening on that.”

[…]

Most of the stadium — to be located near the corner of Texas and Dowling, just east of downtown and U.S. 59 — falls in Lee’s precinct, while a smaller portion is in [Commissioner Sylvia] Garcia’s precinct.

Mark Seegers, a spokesman for Garcia, said a number of issues remain to be resolved, particularly involving the availability of affordable tickets for low-income families.

“Nothing is imminent in terms of this item appearing before Commissioners Court,” Seegers said.

These things can turn around quickly, but it’s clear the Dynamo still have their work cut out for them.