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Hondo Council approves vision plan for creation of intermodal airpark

By William Hoover Anvil Herald Correspondent

(Editor's note: This article was first published in the Thursday, Jan. 12, edition of the Hondo Anvil Herald. It is copyrighted and is being reprinted in the Bandera County Courier with permission.)

Hondo City Council on Monday voted 4-1 to adopt a vision plan for the airport developed by the Tetra Tech consulting firm, which recommends the creation of a intermodal truck, rail and air transportation hub on airport property in Hondo. Council, in conjunction with the Hondo Economic Development Corporation, hired Tetra Tech last February for $75,000 to develop the plan to help market the airport. For the last 11 months the firm has taken input from the public and other stakeholders in order to help create a 30-year development plan for what will be called the South Texas Regional Intermodal Park.

"City council has, in the past, received a thorough presentation on the vision plan from Mark Long and his company Tetra Tech," said City Manger Robert Herrera. "They met with council in a workshop and, after that, asked council to review the document and consider adoption at our first meeting in January. The same presentation was given to the Hondo Economic Development Corporation.

HEDC reviewed and recommended adoption of the document by council and also found a couple things they thought were necessary to become part of the document."

The vision plan for the airport is a three phase plan providing for potential economic growth and opportunities for the City of Hondo and Medina County, according to a video presentation.

The first phase is primarily focused on development that will support light manufacturing and industrial uses, as well as educational and technical opportunities. According to the plan, Phase 1 will begin with road improvements at Castro and Harper Avenues, creating a roundabout at the center of the park. A relocated radar tower would serve as an icon of the new development.

Carter Avenue, Spaatz Lane, Avenue Y and Vandenberg Road will also be improved and will define the heart of the development. A new aviation museum is proposed, and aircraft would be set on display along Castro entrance to the park. Educational and technical districts will enhance the light manufacturing and industrial business of the park.

Phase 2 would begin with the addition of a new golf course, recreational fields and a park. This area will serve as a buffer zone between the existing residential area and the new development. Phase 2 also includes the development of a shopping area, hotels and civic center. The shopping area and hotels would serve to support the needs of the planned workforce at the intermodal park.

This phase creates additional developments north, south and west of the airport, and includes the extension of roads and adding infrastructure to fully support the air to ground operations of the intermodal park. The developments include additional airplane hangars, warehouse storage and maintenance facilities to be constructed in order to handle the increased activity. The railroad would be extended to this area, creating a true air to ground to rail transportation hub, which could also serve food product distribution.

Phase 3 of the plan recommends the airport runway be extended to allow major air-freight carriers to utilize the park as an international air cargo destination. Phase 3 also envisions continued improvement of the road and rail connections between Hondo and Corpus Christi to ensure long-term success of the park.

The implementation of the plan could be the most significant economic development activity in South Texas and could benefit the community of Hondo for generations, according to the video presentation.

"We are excited to ask for adoption of the vision plan for the South Texas Regional Intermodal Park," said Long.

"This vision plan can be used to help you in developing partnerships," he said. "It also helps to define a path for how the development on the airport property can begin and continue.

"This plan will allow you to integrate with other private developer opportunities and to create a more diverse business portfolio for the City of Hondo," said Long. "We looked at the air, rail and trucking options, cargo facilities, light industrial manufacturing, and the HEDC said they desired the inclusion of agricultural and food products since that was a historical aspect of this community.

"The recommended plan of action tonight is for you to approve this preliminary and final vision plan, create a special (taxing) district in order to form a district board that will be able to govern and manage this development process, and then start looking at public financing alternatives that can be leveraged with private development dollars," he said. "Then you can start soliciting industrial projects and users, and start to transition the vision plan into a comprehensive master plan."

Long then showed council the video presentation of the plan prepared by Tetra Tech, which he said would be posted on the city's website at hondo-tx.org along with the vision plan document.

Place 2 Councilman Clyde Haak asked how much it would cost to develop the park. Long said there were no cost estimates for individual projects, but a development plan was provided
with approximate square footages.

Costs for developing the park would be borne by private developers with some public grant funding, according to the plan.

"Until you move forward with real projects, there is no way you can estimate the cost," said Long.

Next, Haak asked if the public, who gave input on the plan's development, would be able to review the completed document.

"It was my understanding the public would have an opportunity to review this final product," said the councilman.

"We did have public hearings, at least twice, and when council and the HEDC reviewed the proposal," said Herrera.

"We had over 12 public opportunities for input," said Long. "We counted over 300 names on sign in sheets at various HEDC, council meetings and planning and zoning meetings. We had a town hall workshop and, by that time, we had already presented the plan in the community six times at various published public meeting forums. We had two different versions of workshops where we had open maps, and we had working groups of over 300 different people interested in the community, business owners, leaders and the school district superintendent and almost all of the council members. It was very extensive, very aggressive, very proactive."

"This is the third meeting where the plan was presented in the last month," noted Mayor Jim Danner. "Twice it was presented to city council and once to HEDC. This has been the biggest effort I have seen since I've been in Hondo, regarding presentation of plans and getting input from the community."

Haak noted that the next step of the plan called for creation of a Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone and estimated its creation would cost the city over $100,000.

"Councilman, I think you are wrong on your cost estimate but that is only because I've had the opportunity to work on Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones," said Herrera. "It will not cost that much. In fact, we can do most of this work in-house and it would probably cost very little.

"This is a planning guide document, it is not asking the city council tonight to set any money aside for future development," said Herrera. "It is a development guide so we utilize, to the best of our ability, the assets that the city has adjacent to the airport. This document shows us how to get started and the ideal type development over the next 30 years. We want private developers to pay for the majority of the costs."

"We started in April or May and then had six months of intense public involvement," said Long. "The newspapers published numerous front-page articles. For the size of this community and the number of people we had at a variety of these meeting, you had a great turnout. Nowhere did we recommend that the city spend public dollars on infrastructure.

What we recommended was that you form a special improvement district that allows you to leverage tax dollars to use against private dollars that are brought in."

Place 4 Councilwoman Ann-Michelle Long offered the motion to adopt the vision plan. The motion passed 4-1, with Haak opposing, after receiving a second from Place 3 Councilman Eric Torres.

"This plan is a guide and has a lot of components in it that will be addressed later on," said Danner after the meeting. "At that point in time, definite decisions will be made how these things are funded. There is no way the city can afford, under our tax and utility funding, to fund any of these big projects without a partnership with either private developers or public entities and the use of grants. The next step would be to work toward the creation of a taxing zone. At the same time, we will try to set up a governing board to work with developers and the taxing board to move forward. I would hope we can look at creating the district within the next 60 to 90 days."