August 15, 2007
Council approves sale of land to Center Serving Persons with Mental Retardation

Today, City Council unanimously approved the sale of the land on which the Center Serving Persons with Mental Retardation to the Center, thus completing a deal that was struck in April. As I understand it, there are still a few minor details to be worked out, but those are basically formalities. I'm told the closing may be as early as today, with a ceremony at the Center to follow at a later date.

During the discussion of the agenda item, before the vote was taken, Mayor White spoke somewhat cryptically about a piece of direct mail that went out in the early stages of the city's negotiations with the Center that attacked the city's motives and made some statements that the Mayor called untrue. You could tell that he was upset about this - he specifically said that if the senders of that mail had really wanted to do something constructive, they would have given money to the Center instead of spending it on that attack mailer - though he didn't go into any detail about its origins. You could also tell that he hadn't spoken of this before in public, because everyone I asked about it, including folks who were representing the Center, didn't know anything about it.

Anyway. I've sent a few questions to Frank Michel, the Mayor's director of communications, to ask about the deal with the Center. I'll print his answers when I get them. I expect to have a conversation with David Baldwin, the president of the Foundation for the Retarded, in the next few days as well. In the meantime, congratulations to the Center Serving Persons with Mental Retardation and to the city for getting this done.

UPDATE: The following is a press release from the Center:

The Center Serving Persons with Mental Retardation's future at its West Dallas Street location was assured today by the Houston City Council's approval of an agreement to sell the 6.7 acres of underlying land to Foundation for the Retarded.

"We are extremely grateful to Mayor Bill White and the City staff for negotiating terms that are fair to all parties. This will enable us to establish a fundraising program to pay off our mortgage and improve our facilities and services," said David Baldwin, president of Foundation for the Retarded, The Center's fundraising organization. "We are also grateful for the overwhelming outpouring of ongoing support from Houstonians, including generous donations of professional services that helped us achieve this agreement."

For more than 50 years, The Center has served its clients at the West Dallas location under a 99-year lease signed by the City in 1963. The nonprofit built its primary facilities on the land, including a six-story dormitory that is home to 200 adults and now provides education, vocational training, supported employment, day habilitation, and residential services to approximately 700 people each day.

"As we intended, this is a win-win for all," said Mayor Bill White. "It adds more certainty to the future, and we believe it will put The Center in a stronger position to carry out its important work."

In April, Mayor White and Center officials reached a preliminary agreement allowing The Center to purchase the land. That agreement was approved today by the City Council. The final purchase and sale is subject to agreement on platting, which is expected to occur in the next 1-2 weeks.

"Owning this land opens up great opportunities for us to better serve more people with disabilities," said The Center's executive director, Eva Aguirre. "Our board has appointed a steering committee to identify the improvements most needed to serve our clients, many of whom are advancing in years. We have also hired a fundraising professional to help us seek the financial resources needed to make those plans a reality. Together with our board members, families, volunteers and supporters, we look forward to providing our clients new opportunities for growth."

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 15, 2007 to Elsewhere in Houston