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2014-11-27

Developing Main Street property - 'Take 2'

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Pictured: Marketing specialist Jennifer Claussen offered City of Bandera Planning and Zoning commissioners a look at a proposed mixed-use development project for Main Street that's still in its nascent stages.

Proving you can't keep a viable project down, development coordinator Gene Hartman of Bulverde appeared before the City of Bandera Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z), proposing a mixed-use project on Main Street. "Sometimes it's better if a project is delayed," he told commissioners, referring to last year's derailed hotel project.
At that time, Hartman and developers Al Rajabi and Gene Liguori were thwarted in their attempts to build a 57-room Best Western hotel on the site, which has been described as the "most valuable piece of property in the city." While Liguori continues as a developer with the project, Rajabi is no longer involved.
Granting a requested variance for an off-premises digital sign proved too draconian for city leaders. To recoup some of their original investment, the developers sold a portion of the sprawling property to the Dollar General Corporation. City council approved construction of the discount store - an action that apparently hasn't sat too well with some city residents.
After acknowledging "last time we had difficulties with interactions," Hartman returned to P&Z on Tuesday, Nov. 18, proposing a three-story mixed use building featuring office and retail space on the first floor, offices and overnight suites on the second floor and overnight lodging on the third floor. The 20,000 square-foot structure would contain approximately 19 rooms and the project is estimated to cost between $2 million and $4 million. It could potentially add 100 jobs in Bandera. "That's significant employment for this city," Hartman noted.
"Bandera's a great place to visit, but it's a little short on hospitality," he continued. "A feasibility study the EDC (City of Bandera Economic Development Corporation) provided to us a year ago pointed out that fact." He added that a second feasibility study would also need to be completed prior to the current project moving forward.
"We know that from Thursday through Sunday, the crowd would be here, but maybe not on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday," Hartman said.
To that end, Jennifer Claussen, director of marking, would schedule and conduct a series of focus groups to determine if the project would be a good fit for the city. "This could be a 'win-win' situation for both the city and developers," Hartman said. "This project could bring in some significant tax revenues in the form of HOT (hotel occupancy taxes) funds."
Clearly, the project is still in its nascent stages. Claussen noted that it might make more sense if one-and-a-half or two stories of the building were earmarked for lodging. "We'll need to get feedback on the necessity for commercial and office space," she said. "However, the need for hospitality within the city is very strong. There is a demand for hotel rooms in Bandera. You would rather have your visitors stay here than in Kerrville or Boerne."
Even City Secretary Karen Chesler noted that there's a need for more overnight rooms in the city. "Most weekends this town is full, full, full," she said. "People call us and say there is nowhere to stay. Lodging is a huge issue."
Both Claussen and Hartman seemed to put the kibosh on last year's inclusion of a conference center in the current project. "From an economic standpoint, a conference center would be difficult to do," Hartman said. Also, "protected motorcycle parking," as suggested by Bandera County Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Patricia Moore, might also be problematic, according to Hartman.
"The cost would be prohibitive," he explained. To a suggestion that open space between the proposed office-lodging building and the Dollar General be utilized, Hartman said the open space was a requirement of the Dollar General's corporate attorneys.
To P&Z Chairman Tony Battle requests that the project would have no need for a sign variance, Hartman replied, "I'll never take that beating again."
When a question regarding a possible request for a variance due to the three-story building came up, Claussen said the ceiling height would be lower on the third floor because that floor would be devoted primarily to lodging. She also indicated that the footprint of the project would probably need to be scaled back to fit on the remaining piece of property.
Addressing another concern, Hartman said, "I know there were concerns about fire fighting on a three-story building, but fire suppression is very scientific."
Reiterating that at this point, plans for the proposed project are still "very preliminary" and informal," Hartman said that no site plans have been drawn up as yet. Essentially, he wanted to take measure of the meeting prior to moving forward with the project.
"This has been a very positive meeting," Hartman said. "I would think we will have renderings completed by mid-January."
Battle and City Administrator Lamar Schulz agreed to serve as city liaisons. "Tony works just a couple of blocks from my favorite restaurant in San Antonio," Hartman said. "I imagine we'll be working closely on this project."