February 25, 2008
The soccer stadium and the downtown grid

Christof returns to the matter of the proposed location for Dynamo Stadium and its potential impacts on traffic. He notes that while the matter of east-west light rail transport is being addressed, the much larger problem of further discontinuities in the east-west street grid portend trouble for the future, and I have to agree. Reluctantly, because I think this is a fine location for Dynamo Stadium absent those concerns, but agree I must as those concerns are real and troubling. I don't know what to do about it, but I do hope it gets as much consideration as the Metro issue does. If we really are "extending the boundaries of downtown", then we'd better be sure we can handle it.

I should note that not just automotive and rail transportation will be affected by stadium construction on the proposed site. As was pointed out to me by reader Mase, the city's planned Columbia Tap Trail bikeway would also need to be rethought if Dynamo Stadium gets built where they're looking at. (You can see a map of the trail and its relation to the stadium location here in PDF format.) I don't think any of this is insurmountable, but all of it is going to require forethought and deliberation. I'd hate to see us rush into something that we'll regret later because we didn't take the time to plan for the easily-anticipated consequences.

And it appears we are going to be taking some action this week, as the City Council agenda suggests:

The first item on the agenda for Wednesday is a public hearing on a plan to have a downtown special taxing district -- called a tax increment reinvestment zone -- pay up to $20 million for "cultural and public facilities" related to a six-block tract being targeted for the stadium.

Which means, in effect, the city is looking to use property taxes to finance the purchase.

In the east part of downtown, those taxes are collected by a tax increment reinvestment zone, TIRZ 15, which includes the possible stadium tract.

Under a TIRZ, property tax revenues generated within the boundaries are frozen at a specified level. As development occurs and property values rise, tax revenue above the set level -- known as the increment -- is funneled back into the zone to pay for infrastructure and capital improvements to help attract further economic development.

TIRZ monies also could be used to secure bonds to pay off the purchase of the land.


"This really is property tax revenue that's just being diverted into another account; it's public money," [Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul] Bettencourt said. He said he would not be surprised if the city ends up investing far more than the $15.5 million offered for the land.

Bettencourt said having public input on a soccer stadium would be a good idea, even if it is not legally necessary.

"As the complexity and scope of the deal expands, the obligations of the city increase, and the need for having a public vote grows," he said.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. The only thing Bettencourt thinks taxes are good for is cutting. And of course, the only time someone like Bettencourt calls for a vote on something is when he opposes it and hopes to defeat it. It's straight out of the anti-Metro playbook. Though if the opinions given by the folks who will be most directly impacted by Dynamo Stadium are any indicator, that ploy may be the same loser here as it has been with Metro:

"I'm OK with our tax dollars being used for it," said Greg Kusiak, general manager of Lucky's Pub on St. Emanuel, one block from the proposed site. "I think stadiums bring people and money, and we're one step closer to the Olympics."

Raul Casarez is building a nine-unit townhouse complex on Hutchins and McKinney. Two of the three-bedroom units already have sold for $350,000.

"I'm very excited," Casarez said. "Within a few years this is going to be better than Midtown."

One thriving business that would be displaced by the land purchase is JANCO Food Services, which supplies food and paper goods to restaurants.

"We've been here 10 years, and it's going to be difficult for us to move," said P. Alex Mousoudakis, one of three brothers who runs the business. "It's going to be expensive, too."

His brother said the city was making the right move.

"The Dynamo deserve it for what they did, winning two championships," Jimmy Mousoudakis said. "If they're going to clean it up and make it nicer to live around here, then I'm OK with tax money being used for it. But it's going to be a pain to move."

A stadium could create more noise and congestion for the nearby Lofts at the Ballpark rental complex, but residents did not seem concerned.

"I moved here because I want the social scene," said Crystal Poarch, 31. "It's always crowded here when the baseball games are going on and when there are conventions, so adding one more stadium to it is probably not going to even bother me."

Not exactly foaming dissent. Be that as it may, I still want to know what the plan is for dealing with the impact on mobility. I hope that's a big part of the discussion on Wednesday.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 25, 2008 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles