February 19, 2008
City moves to buy land for Dynamo Stadium

We are getting closer to a Dynamo Stadium deal.

The city of Houston has offered more than $15.5 million to buy five downtown blocks that could be the future site of a soccer stadium for the Houston Dynamo.

The City Council will consider the deal Wednesday, but is expected to delay approval for at least a week.

The purchase price assumes the land is worth $49 per square foot, almost four times the assessed value of $12.50 per square foot set by the Harris County Appraisal District.

I'll simply note here my previous gripes about the disparity between assessed value and actual value, and move on.

The five blocks are owned by various corporate entities controlled by former Councilman Louis Macey. To acquire a sixth block, owned by a different company, the city has offered to swap a nearby block it already owns.

The six-block tract is between Texas and Walker streets on the north and south, and Hutchins and Dowling streets, just east of U.S. 59 in the "warehouse district." The area recently has undergone some loft-style residential development.

The land will be used for a Dynamo stadium only if the city can reach an agreement with the soccer team owners, said Andy Icken, deputy director for Public Works and Engineering.

"They identified this tract of land as one in which they would be interested," Icken said Monday. Negotiations with the team are continuing. Mayor Bill White has said he does not want public funds used for the actual stadium construction.

City officials are not saying what the land's ultimate use will be. They have conceded that a soccer stadium is one possibility, but also have mentioned a new police headquarters, affordable housing or mixed-use development. The city also could sell the land if nothing works out.

Here's a Google map of the area, if that helps. There are issues and questions here, some of which Cory goes into. I'm neither surprised nor particularly upset that some city money is being spent here. Mayor White has been consistent in specifying that public money would not be spent on stadium construction, so as with talk about infrastructure improvements, that leaves a lot of room for other things. I'm not sure why the city wants to be in the landlord business here, given last year's Center Serving Persons with Mental Retardation saga, which involved the city wanting to get out of that business, though admittedly here the financial potential is much greater. Given that, I'm not sure why the Dynamo wants to have the city as its landlord, but that's their problem. I also note that it's still the case that this location might cause issues for the Southeast and Harrisburg light rail lines, as Christof pointed out last month.

That uncertainty troubles District C Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck.

"Anytime we are spending taxpayer dollars ... I think we need to have some more clarity as to what it's for," she said. "I'm a firm believer that we shouldn't use property tax dollars to fund stadiums."

I respect CM Clutterbuck's position, and I certainly agree we need more clarity. However, I think this deal differs from the previous ones, and not just in magnitude. Here the potential for the city to get a real, tangible return on its expenditure, and not just some hand-wavey mumbo-jumbo about "economic revitalization", is pretty clear. Of course, that has to be part of the deal to address those concerns.

"My preference is to get a stadium," said Councilman James Rodriguez, whose District I contains the tract. If a soccer stadium does not materialize, Rodriguez said the purchase still is a good deal.

"We're in the driver's seat," he said, "We're extending the boundaries of downtown."

That's a valid point. Take 288 North to 59 some day, then take the Pierce/Gray exit and stay on Chartres till you get to I-10. It's very different east of 59 than west of it, and it makes sense to try and integrate the two. If nothing else, those two rail lines will link the two sides of the freeway, and the more attractions there are on the other side, the better.

"I think it's a good price," said Dan Nip, chairman of the East Downtown Redevelopment Authority, which operates Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone 15.

That TIRZ eventually may pay the city back for the purchase of the land, said Robert Fiederlein, the mayor's TIRZ adviser.

And if the TIRZ does pay the city back, then again that changes the nature of this. And again, if that's the idea, it should be made part of the deal.

I think there's a lot of potential for good in this deal. This is a great location for a soccer stadium. I love that it's transit-friendly (maybe a bit too friendly). It may make great financial sense for the city. But all of this depends on the details, and we don't have those yet. I look forward to seeing the final plan, and I hope it lives up to all this potential.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 19, 2008 to Other sports

"That TIRZ eventually may pay the city back for the purchase of the land, said Robert Fiederlein, the mayor's TIRZ adviser."

Just how will the TIRZ pay it back?

We've had three mayors with the same people on their staffs actually running the city. Running the city into the ground with debt upon debt upon debt with these "giveaways" to insiders including the stadium owners.

I sure would like to know how someone can claim land is worth four times the appraised value. Maybe someone ought to point that out on their appraisal district appeals. That the city has established that the appraised value is 1/4th of the market value.

I like the idea of a soccer stadium. But I don't like the idea of taxpayers underwriting another stadium for stadium owners to enrich themslves off of. Off of the taxpayers.

Posted by: Baby Snooks on February 19, 2008 6:37 PM
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