Potential $35M hotel centerpiece of downtown MFalls revitalization plan

CONNIE SWINNEY • STAFF WRITER

MARBLE FALLS — While plans for a potential $35 million hotel/conference center near downtown take shape, a city commissioner questions whether economic development leaders have considered the impact on traffic, wages and housing as the project moves forward.

The Marble Falls Economic Development Corp. interviewed three potential developers in October for a proposed hotel/conference center on EDC land adjacent to Lakeside Park on Lake Marble Falls.

Officials believe the proposed venue could be constructed through a private-public partnership.

“Right now, we’re looking at different structures for a hotel/conference center project in the way a private-public partnership would look in terms of what the EDC’s role is versus what the private developer’s role is and where the city (council) comes into play,” EDC Executive Director Christian Fletcher said.

Investors could build the structure using private bonds, and potential tax increment re-investment zone (TIRZ) dollars could be used to pay for adjacent amenities and improvements on EDC and city-owned property.

TIRZ funds come from a portion of downtown district ad valorem taxes collected through the city of Marble Falls.

Officials introduced the hotel/conference center proposal as the anchor of a revitalization effort utilizing the comprehensive downtown and parks master plan tied to business development, amenities and improvements on EDC, private and city property.

Projects include amphitheaters in Lakeside Park, a boardwalk and water features adjacent to the park on Lake Marble Falls, a walking trail on the shoreline connecting to other points in the community, art or sculpture gardens near the hotel venue, an artificial beach area, bridges, additional parking and possibly closing at least one city street leading to the development area.

After recent developer interviews, the EDC board expects to narrow the list to one developer to present to the Marble Falls City Council.

“We had follow-up visits with each one of them,” Fletcher said.

Estimates of the potential 12,000-square-foot conference center and 150-room hotel range from $15 million to $35 million.

In comparison, La Quinta Inn and Suites, one of the larger hotels in Marble Falls, has 74 rooms. Horseshoe Bay Resort has 400 rooms.

“(The proposed Marble Falls venue) would be substantially larger than anything we have in town,” Fletcher said.

To accommodate the new development, EDC officials have proposed relocating public amenities at Lakeside Park, including the swimming pool and tennis and basketball courts, as well as finding a new home for the city skateboard park at the nearby Fall Creek Park.

“There may be some things that are able to stay based on how things are configured. The skate park is a prime example of something that is very near to the property that the EDC owns,” Fletcher said. “There’s just been no determination made on whether it’s better to keep it there or to potentially locate it to a new place and repurpose that property.”

At least one official has expressed concerns about the projects, citing traffic and cost and whether such a venture would benefit the community.

“It looks pretty on paper, but we’ve forgotten about the families who live here. Why do we need another brewery place? Do we need another clothing place?” said Leta Stevenson Smith, a board member on the Marble Falls Parks and Recreation Commission.

“It’s going to create jobs, but you’re bringing all these businesses in, and they’re going to pay minimum wage — not good,” she said. “How’s that going to feed those families that live here?”

Stevenson Smith worked for 13 years at the Marble Falls Independent School District as a para-professional. For three years, she served as program director for the Boys and Girls Club of the Highland Lakes and is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

She said her experiences have kept her close to the heart of the community.

“The focus is definitely in the wrong place. I think (the planners) are more about the dollar than the families that live here. It’s more about making it pretty, making it visitor-friendly. How friendly is that for (the residents)?” she said. “I live here. The businesses they’re bringing in are just some place where my cousin can go get a $7 or $8 (an hour) job.

“The hotels and the restaurants — the owners are going to profit,” she added. “Everybody else is getting paid minimum wage.”

She said she would like the EDC to consider shifting their priorities.

“The average person is thinking, ‘How is this (hotel/conference center) going to help me?’ We need affordable housing. We need to ask people,” Stevenson Smith said. “We’re very limited on our way in and out. We’re creating a traffic jam.”

She believes EDC officials have raised more questions about the future than provided answers.

“We need to look at the whole picture. Who is going to maintain it? Is the city going to eat the bill for all of the maintenance?” she asked. “Are we going to hire more people who work for the city? Pay them more money?”

EDC officials say they have received an indication of what the community wants during a 2015 survey aimed at updating the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

Fletcher said results showed those who took the survey, available online, supported “increasing access to the lake and adding lake amenities.”

“Hotel/conference center was a specific question, and it was among the things that people were interested in,” he said. “I think the public amenities that we’ve presented like a beach, like a boardwalk, like amphitheaters, those things are the amenities that are more specific to locals as well as tourists.

“When locals respond, they like (the amenities) more than they’re going to like a hotel/conference center because they’re not staying there,” he said.

Contact and interviews with developers have taken place in closed sessions during EDC meetings; however, Fletcher offered insight into where the entity has drawn the line with developers in the past.

“We’ve been approached by potential developers who would love to get into Lakeside Park where the pavilion is today or where the swimming pool is today and put a hotel/conference center there, and we’ve been extremely resistant to that idea just because we want the parks to remain accessible to tourists as well as locals,” he said.

As part of the larger scope of the revitalization effort, proposed amenities would connect with existing ones.

“We feel very strongly that Lakeside Park is not as utilized as it could be, so what we would like to do is keep a lot of those pristine areas where people like to go and sit, but we’d also like to create amenities and destinations and reasons for people to go down there and spend their time,” he said.

“Extension of the hike-and-bike trail as we’ve done from Johnson Park over to Westside. It goes up to Childers Park. The parks master plan calls for the extension of that trail system along the creeks to connect over into Lakeside Park,” he added. “If you look at our concept plan, you see a lot of green, a lot of flexible open space.

Stevenson Smith fears planners are out of touch with the financial means of residents.

“I brought my grand babies down on Main Street. We couldn’t afford to go there and eat. The only thing on Main Street we could do is my babies could climb up on the statue and snap a picture,” she said. “Can the families who live here afford to take your kids down on Main Street to shop and eat? No. They’re not going to spend local, and we try to encourage people to spend local, but it’s too expensive.”

Fletcher contends the projects would benefit the entire community as well as tourists.

“The projections that we’ve been given over the first five years of operation would be just over $700,000 put into the TIF (tax increment financing) in property taxes and $230,000 put into the city’s general fund,” he said. “The improvements that we are envisioning and planning for are not just for hotel guests; it’s something that can be enjoyed by people who live here.”

Attracting lifelong residents should be high on the list of goals as well, Stevenson Smith said.

““I felt like that we have forgotten the people who live here. We’re going to offer some good things to get the visitors here, but what’s going to want to make them move here. It’s not going to be the development on Main Street that’s going to make them want to come and live forever instead of just for the weekend,” she said. “The kids who grew up here are thinking, ‘I’m going to have to move my family out of here just to make a good living wage.’”

connie@thepicayune.com

20 Responses to “Potential $35M hotel centerpiece of downtown MFalls revitalization plan”

  1. Jim says:

    The article notes “Stevenson Smith fears planners are out of touch with the financial means of residents.” I believe that Leta Stevenson Smith is the one that is out of touch.

  2. John says:

    As always, “Other Peoples Money”. What about parking? Who is going to pay for this boon doggle?

  3. John says:

    You can’t drive down the street without breaking an axel or blowing out your tires, but you will have a big fancy schmazy conference center with no parking paid for with “OPM”. Great, more pie in the sky.

  4. Elaine says:

    So, Fletcher says this is in keeping with a 2015 “survey available online.” Did that survey actually reach the majority of residents here? Who can afford to be tracking what the EDC is doing and find the survey when they are busy working? I try to keep informed – and have a skepticism of EDC plans so I try to watch – but I didn’t see it. The EDC has big plans for turning this into even more of a major resort city – but how much will be lost if that happens? I realize that Marble Falls is becoming a city of “immigrants” from other parts of the country and bigger cities. But they moved here because they liked the life style we had. It seems the EDC is trying to change Marble Falls into one of the kind of places they left to move here!

  5. steve says:

    This is not all about helping the local residents have a better place to live. It is geared towards making the developers money on one hand and bringin in a different class of people on the other. These planners just love putting the newest color lipstick on the pig and claiming the bacon will taste better. Smith is correct in what she is saying.

  6. Diane says:

    I moved here because Marble Falls was a small town and beautiful. I moved here in 1982 and it was amazing. Some growth is good but traffic in Marble falls has gotten ridiculous! I don’t think we need more people coming here and I am a business person that benefits from tourism but enough is enough. Keep Marble Falls a small town!

    • John says:

      Diane, when you moved here in 1982, if you had done any research about the area you would have known that it was growing and what the projections were at the time. I am tired of listening to these people that moved in here from somewhere else and then want to shut of the door and not let anyone else come in. Really?????

      • Elaine says:

        What about listening to those of us who are natives, not someone who moved in and then wants to shut the door? Why did you and others move here if what you want is to turn it into another large city with all the associated problems (traffic, crowds, etc.)? Why didn’t you go to a place that suited your vision of where you wanted to live? I’m not saying one is better than the other. There are a lot of things a small town lacks. But WHY must Marble Falls be changed into something else?

        I know, growth and change are inevitable. But why this monstrosity of hotel and conference center? What positive changes will it make in Marble Falls? Management will move in from elsewhere, not giving top jobs to locals. Locals will get minimum wage jobs as servers, cleaners, etc – and as Marble Falls grows it becomes more expensive to live here so that those jobs are even less adequate to live on.

        The EDC says it will bring in more revenue and tax money – but I bet they give a hefty tax break to get someone to move in and contribute to building/running the complex. Maybe, if they can actually attract people to stay there instead of across the lake at the already established Horseshoe Bay Resort and Conference center, it will bring in money from the visitors – who will also bring traffic and parking issues and COST the city to deal with those problems.

        I just don’t see the benefit compared to the costs, tangible and intangible.

      • steve says:

        John. The average person does not always move to an area because of future projections. They more then likely moved there for other reasons,such as to be close to family or that they liked what the area looked liked or how it made them feel inside. And some just happened to live on the edge and got sucked into the city due to the overwhelming annexations they have been pushing for the last 8 years. Most who look at future projections are investors looking to cashing in and getting out.

  7. Bill says:

    Jim thinks every average working family in Marble Falls has the money of a Horseshoe Bay retired couple!

    • Elaine says:

      This is not a rich area – just has some quite wealthy like Horseshoe Bay (and very comfortable Meadow Lakes) with a lot who are poorer. I pulled some U.S. Census Bureau figures. Median income here is $34,240 as of 2009 – 2013, well below the $51,074 for the state. Same period, 20.8% are below the poverty level. Only 56.7% are between 18 and 65 and “working” age. Of all those over 25, only 20.5% have a college education. I’d bet most of that 20.5% is the retired who have moved in and school teachers and administrators.

  8. Elaine says:

    I’d sure be curious to see any feasibility study which indicates that this community can support resort/conference centers. Horseshoe Bay Resort and Conference Center is just across the lake and has the name and long-standing reputation to get the business first. So, this boondoogle will get the scraps left over. If that’s not enough, who will get stuck holding the bag for the cost of this?

  9. Sheila says:

    I agree with Diane enough is enough, I am a native of Marble Falls and I have seen alot of growth in the last 52 years. I remeber when Hwy 281 and 1431 was a 4 way stop and we only had one school , it was wonderful and I know things have to change but it is getting to be to much I was always proud to live in the quiet town of Marble Falls but now I would love to move out of here but I would be leaving alot of family , so please STOP the nonsense!!

  10. Ashley says:

    Such exciting news for our town! Thank you, EDC, for putting in countless hours of researching and planning to help make Marble Falls a wonderful place to live!

    • steve says:

      For some odd reason you must think the edc did all the work as it relates to research and planning for the city.. that is way off reality. The edc is a small cog in the big wheel.

  11. Tina says:

    Please don’t bring a conference center here. I love the small community which is why I moved here in the first place. A conference center is unnecessary just like the Cvs they’re putting in on the hill when Walgreens is not even a mile away.

  12. I am against removing and relocating the public recreation areas that have there to serve all of the citizens of Marble Falls. Taxes collected and money brought in would no doubt serve to help city government and local businesses. What about the children and adults who use the pool and tennis courts? What about the ordinary citizens and organizations that need an affordable place to rent for parties, weddings, meetings, and receptions. What about the public boat ramp needed to launch boats AND watercraft for the public? Not everyone can afford to pay for the facilities that are proposed. Already our town has little to offer teens for recreation…a movie theater that you pay for? A sonic to go get food & drink to visit with their friends? No bowling. No minature golf. NO POOL? TENNIS? NO LAUNCH? NO SKATE PARK? NO LAKE ACCESS TO SWIM OR CANOE? NO PICNICING WITH YOUR KIDS? HOW ABOUT VIEWING THE FIREWORKS ON THE 4TH OR WALKING THROUGH THE MAGICAL WALKWAY OF LIGHTS AND SITTING ON SANTA’S LAP? Everything I mentioned is important to the people who have made Marble Falls their home! It is more than enough to sour me on this project. Then consier the traffic and construction. Lest you forget the detours many, many have to make in order to accomodate events when the park is closed, or getting around and out to 281 when roads are closed due to high water…Ave N, 2nd Street, Broadway…and others. Construction closings will also be a nightmarefor anyone needing to get to 281! In my opinion, your plan is unrealistic. It is NOT beneficial for the majority of the citizens. It is detramental to the needs of our young people, young families, and so many of our retirees who rely on and love their public recreation areas.
    This makes me sad. I think you are proposing a project that will change the heart of our town.

  13. Christian Fletcher says:

    With the interest in this thread and this project, I’ve posted what should be a fairly comprehensive blog on the EDC’s web site: http://www.marblefallseconomy.com/downtown-marble-falls-projects. In short, the EDC’s plan is to support public/private partnerships that will create public amenities and public benefits without sacrificing public access or raising property tax rates. Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns.

    830-798-7079
    cfletcher@marblefallseconomy.com

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