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Bandera - To develop or not, Part 2

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Photo by Judith Pannebaker
"Helping Bandera Grow" is the ostensible mission of the Bandera Business Association. However, the organization is often missing in action when economic development discussions take place.

(Editor's note: This is the second in a series of articles about the efforts of the Bandera County Regional Economic Development Partnership. The article also covers economic development - or its lack - in the City of Bandera.)

While facilitating a workshop sponsored by the Bandera County Regional Economic Development Partnership, Jeremy Zaborowski of the Lower Colorado River Authority, repeatedly referenced the Bandera Business Association, an organization that was purportedly tied with the county development group.
However, no member of the BBA attended the workshop. And no one with the development partnership could name the organization's board of directors or meeting times and dates. The Bandera County Economic Development Partnership consists of Chairman Sully Woodland and directors Roy Thompson, Johnny Boyle, Gary Johnston, Don Giles and Bob Grimes.
When queried about the significance of the BBA connection, references were made that the county group desired to partner with a municipal entity for future economic development. And, having been soundly rebuffed earlier by the City of Bandera Economic Development Corporation (EDC), the BBA seemed to be a natural partner - on the surface at least.
Apparently Woodland had met with former BBA President Jim Barlow, president of the Bandera branch of Hondo National Bank. Barlow, it is believed, suggested that the LCRA could assist with an economic development workshop. Barlow retired from the bank last March and resigned from his position with the BBA at that time.
'Helping Bandera Grow'
On its website, the BBA - slogan, "Helping Bandera Grow" - listed various businesses as members, several of which are now closed. Also, other business owners claim to have been a BBA member "years ago" but seemed unaware they were still being counted among the dues payers.
Other than Margaret Paradee as president, no other board members are mentioned and meeting times and dates were not available on the website.
However, according to Bandera County Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Patricia Moore, the BBA sponsors RiverFest, as well as Mayhem on the Medina and the Christmas Trail of Lights. In fiscal year 2015-2016, the CVB allocated $7,100 to the BBA for advertising those events.
In a 2013 BBA column published in the Courier, the organization also "... funds the Cowboys on Main project; Bandera Market Days; business-related educational seminars; and the holiday lights on the courthouse lawn, Western Trail Heritage Park, the municipal building and the Trail of Lights project in Bandera City Park during the Christmas holidays." However, questions have been raised regarding the number of "heads in beds" generated by taking a gander at Bandera's Christmas lights.
Previously, Bandera City Council authorized the BBA to dole out Hotel Occupancy Tax funds to local nonprofits. The so-called HOT funds are generated by a tax imposed on out-of-county visitors who stay in hotels, motels and beds and breakfasts located in the city.
In an interview, Mayor John Hegemier indicated that several council members had asked that the policy of turning over HOT funds to the BBA for dispersal be reevaluated. "Apparently those funds can be used for projects besides advertising and Christmas lights," he said, adding, "HOT funds have not yet been addressed in the 2015-2016 city budget."
Additionally, a lack of presence at the recent economic development workshop was not the first time the BBA was MIA during discussions about business ventures in the city.
The dream of a hotel on Main Street died during a board of adjustments - aka city council - meeting on Oct. 2, 2013, when the board refused to give the developer a variance for an off-premises sign.
The digital sign would have given small businesses and nonprofits an advertising venue on Main Street. In addition, the property development team was prepared to offer the municipality 10 percent of the advertising space without charge. They also offered to reduce the size of the sign further - to no avail.
However, by a 4-2 vote, the board of adjustments failed to approve the variance. Among others, Hegemier and Councilman Jim Hannah voted against the variance, effectively quashing a multi-million dollar project within the city.
No representative from the BBA spoke in favor of the project. In fact, no one from the organization even attended the pivotal meeting. But the BBA is not the only municipal entity that seems to view economic development in the city as an anathema. The much-touted City of Bandera Economic Development Corporation (EDC) has been curiously reticent on the subject.
Ad hoc committee
Earlier, both EDC and city council had approved the appointment of an ad hoc committee charged with devising a plan to ignite Bandera's economy. That committee, comprised of Woodland, Thompson, Giles, Johnston, Grimes and Boyle, later morphed into the Bandera County Regional Economic Development Partnership.
The committee selected a strategic economic development plan as submitted by the Austin-based TXP, Inc., a firm specializing in economic analysis and public policy consulting. The president of the firm recognized that local small business and retail venue growth were just as important to maintaining Bandera's "quality of place" as recruiting appropriate industries. The plan's cost would have been $47,500 with a completion date of four months.
Those speaking in favor of hiring TXP, Inc. included representatives from the Bandera County Chamber of Commerce, the CVB, a local bank, the Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District and event coordinator Genie Strickland. Once again, a BBA representative was conspicuously absent.
No economic
development wanted
During the meeting, EDC Chairman Martha Shoemaker, a county resident, raised objections to the strategic economic development plan. Instead, she proposed appointing a "taskforce" to work under the authority of the EDC or city council to review the areas of City Park, historic district and economic development. City council would supposedly appoint the EDC as gatekeepers or caretakers to this process.
To a query about her proposition, Shoemaker reiterated, "The EDC needs to take on the responsibility to formulate a taskforce as an extended arm of the EDC or council. Making a decision tonight is premature."
The meeting occurred over a year ago and to the Courier's knowledge, no taskforce has been appointed.
However, EDC later earmarked $10,000 in its fiscal year 2014-2015 budget for a consultant to prepare a Hotel RFP (request for proposal). According to Shoemaker, no RFP has been written to date. On the other hand, the EDC earmarked $50,000 to fund construction costs for a skateboarding park in City Park.
For the record, Shoemaker attended the economic development workshop held Wednesday, Sept. 16.
Other business proposals that never got off the ground in the City of Bandera include a $5 million boutique hotel to be built on the grounds of The Mansion in Bandera and revitalization of The Cabaret dancehall by Steve Ball.
Even city ordinances covering city signage appear to work against smaller businesses. Perceived uneven applications of the law successfully rid the municipality of a portable barbecue stand; however, a similar barbecue stand currently seems to be operating with some degree of success.
At that time, Hy Rabon, then-owner of newly re-opened The Olde Forge Bakery, Deli & Grill, received notice that he, too, was in violation of the city sign ordinance. On Nov. 14, 2013, Rabon repeatedly asked city council to clarify the city's sign ordinance for him. "I can't understand it," he said. "I've been told my sign is illegal and I can't find (the reason) anywhere in the ordinance."
In a letter to the editor of a local newspaper, a member of the BBA advised new business owners to hire attorneys to decipher the city's sign ordinance requirements.
In a letter to the Courier, Rabon wrote, "It appears to me that city officials don't want businesses to thrive and prosper. Aren't city officials here for the good of the city? Does my restaurant not bring in tax dollars to the city?" The Olde Forge is now closed and the building for sale.
'Net sum zero'
Some city residents and "business advocates" regard new businesses replacing failed ones as a sign of a robust city economy. As James McGroarty, owner of the 11th Street Cowboy Bar, explained to city council at that time, "Businesses replacing others doesn't signify growth. What you're seeing is a net sum zero."
Businesses that have moved from the city to unincorporated parts of the county include Hevenor Lumber, Vincent's Automotive, Bandera Family Practice and Comprehensive Physical Therapy, among others.
And, all these years later, city leaders still seem to equate "net sum zero" with a growing business climate.