The Corpus Christi Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone #4 (TIRZ 4) board voted to authorize City Manager Peter Zanoni to execute an amendment to the agreement for a long embattled hotel project.
The meeting became heated nearly right off the bat when board member Carolyn Vaughn, who is also running for mayor of Corpus Christi began justifying the need for the extension in question and making arguments that the process needed to be fair for the developer and argued repeatedly that the city was just trying to play some sort of game hoping to kill the project.
Back in November 2019, City Council approved an agreement with The Breakers at North Beach, LP. which includes local businessman Lynn Frazier and Dallas area developer Jeff Blackard. The agreement included incentives up to $7,826,200 for the construction of a nearly $40 million upscale hotel and apartment building on North Beach. Some argue that it was supposed to be a 5 star Marriott brand luxury hotel. Others now say that it has somehow become a 4 star hotel. But that really isn’t the issue. The issue is money and who spends what, when and where.
In the original agreement made between the developers and the city, there were clear deadlines set out that required construction to begin on the hotel development within six-months or by June 2, 2020. That didn’t happen—obviously.
The developers and their attorney, Doug Allison, whose domestic partner, Nueces County Judge (and TIRZ 4 board member) Barbara Canales initially asked for an extension of 60 days passed the end of COVID-19 to begin work. But almost anybody could figure out that might be hard to predict the actual end date. That date has now been defined by city officials to be to the end of 2024.* (See note)
Mr. Allison and his client initially came to the city asking for what in essence was an open-ended agreement that opponents argue could have stretched on possibly into infinity without anything ever being done. The city says that they just helped that matter along and consulted with the Public Health Director to get an idea as of when that could be. They say that they came up with the date of the end of 2023 or early 2024.
“I have a real issue with that,” Allison told the board. “How do you define the end of COVID?”
City Manager Peter Zanoni immediately fired back with a snark remark of his own to Mr. Allison by saying “You didn’t define it so we did it for you.”
Toward the end of the meeting Mrs. Vaughn chimed in saying that “nobody in their right mind” would spend $40 million dollars to build in a place that floods like North Beach. And she is right, so then the question lies as to why should taxpayers pay for a canal when there has been no solid engineering proof that a canal fixes the problem? The only thing that is certain in this mess is that the entire thing is in shambles and it’s a thorn in the side of the community that local self interest and developers just won’t let go of.
While nobody would argue that there are issues with flooding in North Beach there is one simple theory that people seem to forget: Water follows the path of least resistance and by adding an opening without giving it a place to go then you defeat the purpose of the canal. A canal just makes it easier for water to enter but doesn’t actually provide it anyplace to go.
“A canal can and does work if it is done in a place that doesn’t have much tidal variance,” says Claire Earlie, an environmental scientist. “It probably isn’t the best solution because where Corpus Christi is you have seasonal tides, storm surge and other imposing factors. Just by looking at the maps you can tell that the canal theory should be seriously questioned and likely abandoned entirely.”
But the developers and their attorney seemed to insist that the city should hurry up and make a decision on what to do in order for the project to move forward regardless of the cost or overall burden to the taxpayers.
But then you have to go back to the idea of what kind of hotel will sit on this lot located there on the property in question. A closer examination of the records offer no assurance that a five-star hotel would even be built—there are only assumptions and suggestions. In the end, the taxpayers of Corpus Christi could be stuck with a budget hotel or worse yet, townhomes that bring in no Hotel/Motel tax or much other revenue. The deal seems to be flawed in more ways than one and the saga drags on and on without any end in sight—except maybe January 31, 2024.
By the end of the meeting the new term allows the developer three years and three months’ time to begin construction of the hotel development on or before January 31, 2024. Time will only tell what happens then.
*In this article we noted that Doug Allison, attorney for the developers is in a domestic partnership with Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales who also sits on the TIRZ 4 board. Fairly noted, Judge Canales did not formally recuse herself from the vote but did not cast a vote during the roll call due to connectivity issues from attending remotely.