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Council approves Memorial Park plan

Done deal.

The plan, which could see up to $300 million invested, also would restore the park’s ecosystem, which was greatly harmed in the 2011 drought, through ambitious plans to add fire suppression and irrigation systems and improve drainage to end serious erosion problems in parts of the park.

The plan was developed through months of public meetings, surveys and workshops with park users, and incorporated research from local experts on such matters as soil ecology, hydrology, archaeology, history and traffic. It was created by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, the Memorial Park Conservancy and the Uptown tax increment reinvestment zone, which committed $3.2 million in financing for the plan.

The Uptown zone also will commit up to $120 million toward the envisioned infrastructure projects, such as drainage and parking improvements. Much of the rest will be raised from private donors by the conservancy.

As with most such master plans, the blueprint defined goals for what the park should become over time, if and when funding becomes available to build the things it proposes. Next, officials will design the projects, estimate how much they will cost, and decide how and when to apply public and private dollars to them.

See here for the background. Since there was a lot of discussion regarding the price tag in the comments to that post, keep in mind that not everything in the plan may ultimately get done. In addition, as noted above, privately raised funds will be a big part of this. The Bayou Greenway Initiative, which has a key role in the plan, intends to raise as much as they borrow in the bond initiative. Whatever the city winds up paying will come from the capital budget. It would be nice to know how much that is, but we’re not going to until the construction projects actually start. And again, it would be nice to know what the Mayoral candidates think about this, because this affects them and they can affect this. Hair Balls has more.

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2 Comments

  1. Carl says:

    The TIRZ can only legally spend money on infrastructure within the TIRZ boundary. They have to spend it on something. We should be glad that they expanded their boundary to include the park otherwise they would have to start plating the Uptown streets in gold otherwise they would start leaving money on the table. Also if the TIRZ portion really is $120 million over 20 years they are still going to have plenty of money left over to spend on other stuff. That is just a drop in the bucket of their total budget, especially in the long run.

    But again, it is just plan, not a commitment to even spend $1. It seems every person who is against this doesn’t understand that. Money to complete this plan will have to compete with other needed/required projects and if there turns out to not be money left over in the budget to build a parking lot at memorial park… then it won’t get built that year because it won’t get funded.

  2. Steven Houston says:

    Carl, the whole idea of setting up a TIRZ was to get a specific project done and then dissolve. This was very specific in the beginning, the concept that the “project” or series of smaller projects in the particular TIRZ would be THE driving force to increase all property values. It was explained that way to suggest a TIRZ would literally pay for itself, silly concepts like inflation, normal increases in valuations over time, or all the other factors that increase tax revenue would otherwise either not exist or would not amount to much.

    Needless to say, almost every city budget in memory has built in escalations for value of property and sales tax revenues, yearly city coffers expanding over time just as most costs have expanded. They know that over time, healthcare costs are going up, employee’s will want more compensation, and all the things a city buys will cost more (check out how much a fire pumper has changed in price in the past 20 years, a patrol car, buildings in general, etc.). With a TIRZ in place, all the increases in those areas do not go to the general fund to pay for city services used not only in the city as a whole but in the TIRZ as well. The city doesn’t cut staffing to them nor change them for whatever increases in costs take place so not only is the city allowing them to keep money otherwise designated to the city as a whole, it is routinely giving those TIRZ programs to expedite permits, speed up approvals, and green lighting things to cut red tape to “prove” the TIRZ program works.

    Like any other government program, this one brings out the leeches and those who would cordon off their geographic area if allowed to (like a gated community), doing so economically only because it is not allowed to put up a gate. Despite the built in time limits established at the beginning, you find that any time you set something like this up, a constituency comes with it, one that will find ways to keep power and money flowing to its control. Take a look at the most “successful” TIRZ areas and look to see who gets on the board of directors, typically developers who will personally benefit from building up the area because they own a stake.

    So if you think for one minute that Uptown is going to either not approve the park project and try to remain in existence forever, I have a bridge to sell you. It might be a decaying and unsafe bridge because city matching funds are not available to fix it up, but a bridge nonetheless. Further, if you think phase one of the project will only cost $120 million or that community donors will supply the bulk of funding, I also have some ocean front property in Arizona to sell you for your bridge. The whole “they have to spend it on something” mentality is why Houston is heading down a dark path financially, one where the nearly 20% of the city that is currently in a TIRZ (virtually all the areas of growth in the city, in spite of, not because of, the TIRZ program) becomes the full 25%, or more if the enriched developers call in future favors to their state representatives by others that “don’t understand” the details.

    But even if a TIRZ decided to rebuild streets in their area, one generic mile of roadway costs about $10 million in this area if done halfway right. It costs more if the area includes a bridge or other aspects. Even the city’s entire budget would not rebuild each street in the Uptown TIRZ if that helps your perspective any. As far as what kinds of things a TIRZ can (or does) spend money on, I’ve seen some of the time sheets used to pay officers in an overtime program, how much some of those fancy chrome street lights were, and wondered if anyone remembers that bus depot the TIRZ was to be pouring money into so yes, paying attention is not such a bad thing.