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2015-11-26

Hotel proposal goes to EDC & back again

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

A team attempting to develop a multi-use complex on Main Street that would include a hotel met with the City of Bandera Economic Development Corporation, asking for financial assistance to make the complex a go.
Facilitator Gene Hartman and principal developer Gene Longoria described previous meetings as being very productive, noting, "We're really, really close (to an agreement)." Referring to a workshop on Nov. 9, Hartman said Bandera City Council had "affirmed" the project.
On Wednesday, Nov. 18, Hartman and Longoria described the complex as including a 46-room Bandera Best Western Hotel with in-room refrigerators, microwaves and coffee makers. The facility would also include a 4,500 square foot restaurant with a drive-thru and retail spaces. The owner-developer would manage the daily operations of the hotel.
Also new to the complex - but hopefully not to Courier readers - would be a 1,440 square foot conference space on the first floor of the three-story complex. The conference center would have a warming kitchen, serving bar, restrooms and water fountain.
"The conference space would accommodate 60 people," Hartman said. "We're looking to bring smaller conventions from San Antonio, Austin, Houston and Dallas."
For larger conventions, Longoria said he plans to work with dude ranchers as well as Susan Jenkins, owner of the Flying L Resort. "We could then sell packages over the Best Western reservation system," he said.
The owner-developer would also contribute the land at 711 Main Street as project equity and obtain a conventional loan from a local lender.
To assist with the construction of the complex, Longoria asked EDC to provide:
• $100,000 to fund onsite improvements, including site work for the facility and parking lot. According to the agreement, the requested amount would be funded directly to the contractors providing the site work.
• $144,000 to build and furnish the first floor conference center, helping to offset lost retail revenue.
• Funding for any funding requests not approved by the taxing entities of the city, Bandera County and Bandera Independent School District.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Bob Grimes, who serves as county liaison to the city, hastily noted that Longoria and Hartman had not yet presented the project to commissioners court. "Nor to the school district," Hartman responded.
After presenting this request to EDC, Hartman reviewed the projected tax revenues garnered from the project. However, after EDC members questioned the calculations, Hartman and Longoria decided to recalculate their estimates.
In an email to the Courier on Friday, Nov. 20, Hartman wrote: " I would like to refrain from releasing the figures from last night's meeting since we are currently revising those figures based upon received feedback. I would like them to be reflective of our discussions with various Bandera officials. Gene L. proposed those numbers based on his experience with previous hospitality venues and, as we well know, Bandera is a unique market."
Hartman promised to send the updated figures to the Courier in time for an article in the Thursday, Dec. 3, edition.
Additionally, however, Hartman and Longoria expected to achieve a 65 percent hotel occupancy during the first year of operation. To skeptics, Longoria replied, "This number is based on extensive pre-marketing of the facility as we did in other communities." He added, "You can't just flip a switch and expect people to show up."
To a query from EDC Chairman Martha Shoemaker regarding the size of the conference room, Longoria explained that that was the combined size of three sacrificed retail spaces. No rooms were removed to accommodate the center.
"Today, people expect hotels like this to have conference centers. It would be a huge detriment not to have this amenity," Longoria said. He also said the center would help fill the hotel during the week.
"A meeting could be held on Thursday and Friday then the participants would stay for the rest of the weekend," he said, adding, "It doesn't make sense to have an off-site conference room, especially for a small group."
A self-described newcomer to the EDC, Toni Kunz noted that she had a problem voting on the request at this meeting because she wanted to review specific guidelines governing how EDC funds could be spent.
Shoemaker told Longoria and Hartman she had trouble with their third "open-ended" request for funds.
"We understand you can't write a blank check," Longoria replied.
"We would also need a public hearing to discuss funding this project," Shoemaker said, also noting the necessity of reviewing the EDC guidelines and spending parameters. "We want to come up with determining questions before the public hearing and make sure the project is well vetted," she continued.
"I encourage this work as it is a worthy cause but it must be within the guidelines of the TML (Texas Municipal League). Everything must be perfectely legal and vetted by an attorney so it will be right today, tomorrow and the next day."
EDC Member Glenn Clark made a motion to table the item until a special EDC meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 9. His motion passed unanimously. Other members present were Bandera County Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Patricia Moore and Joe Hearn.