EDC focuses on downtown Liberty Hill

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By Christine Bolaños

The Liberty Hill Economic Development Corp. Board of Directors recently approved a partnership with the City of Liberty Hill and Liberty Place to fund infrastructure improvements.

EDC Executive Director Kirk Clennan describes the partnership as a three-way funding mechanism for improvements, particularly as it relates to water and wastewater service, at the Liberty Place duplex development on Loop 332 across from the fire station.

The EDC Board voted to fund up to $30,000 toward the improvements with the City providing an equal share, and Liberty Place providing the same value in labor and equipment to do the work.

“This goes back to the budget hearing and budget presentation,” Clennan said. “When the departments were presenting their budgets one of the things I presented was we need to make sure that our infrastructure is more than adequate to service existing and perspective business in the community.”

As the city continues to grow it makes sense to expand and improve water and wastewater, he said.

Clennan put a line item in the EDC budget for $750,000 to go toward infrastructure improvements. That amount is a huge chunk of the ESD’s fund that has been accruing over the years and has not been used. The total amount in that fund is close to $900,000, according to Clennan.

He came up with that number ($750,000) after discussions with the city’s engineer concerning infrastructure needs in downtown. “After a big review by Greg (Boatright, City Manager), the suggestion was made that instead of the EDC stepping up and doing this, why don’t — and he had already been in conversations with some private developers about — ‘Hey, the city can’t afford to pick up the tab for every water and wastewater improvement that there is. We need you to step it up,” Clennan said.

“It’s not unprecedented to have the developer pay as you go,” he said. “So Greg wasn’t out of line in asking. This partnership is definitely not unprecedented.”

Though this type of partnership may be new to the City of Liberty Hill, it is not a new idea, he said.

“That’s where Greg said, ‘Let’s reduce that line item. It doesn’t need to be $750,000,’” Clennan said. “‘Let’s put some money in there as a line item for infrastructure improvements and as we go along through the fiscal year, and if, big capital letter ‘if,’ circumstances arise where, ‘Hey, look, this will really help us not only deliver water services or wastewater to this private developer but will also improve our system and that’s what we struggle with in Liberty Hill.’”

The city is challenged by a systemic infrastructure issue, he said. This could be the start of tackling the issue head on, he alluded.

“The board liked it,” Clennan said. “I liked it as well. I just felt that like, ‘Look, we need to just jump in with both feet and make these things happen.’”

By that he means ensuring enough funding is allocated to improve delivery of water and wastewater service in downtown Liberty Hill the first try. Clennan said the City Manager felt it was a “little too ambitious” for one project. Even the board felt his proposal was “too aggressive,” he said.

“One area of the community, the downtown district. Would we be better off doing something up on (Highway) 29 or somewhere else in our very small two square miles,” Clennan said. “That’s what their take on it was and that’s a very fair argument.”

Focusing on the Liberty Place development infrastructure improvements will have a “ripple effect” throughout the community, he believes.

“That would be not only helpful to the development at Liberty Place but also the surrounding area because it all ties in,” Clennan explained.

The EDC’s portion of the water improvements at Liberty Place was paid Sept. 30, prior to the start of the new fiscal year Thursday.

New board members

The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1, and it brings with it some new and re-appointed members of the EDC Board of Directors. Among the new appointments are Bill Chapman of Chapman Investments, John Clark of Farmers Insurance Agency and Debbie Norman of RE/MAX Town & Country. Re-appointed board members include Johnny Johnston, Lance Dean and Jack Harkrider.

Grant request

The board approved a façade and sign matching grant request for MRVNEVN Investments, LLC.

“It’s a direct thoughtfulness of the LHEDC, the leaders in City Council and Downtown Committee,” Clennan said.

He said Liberty Hill City Secretary Barbara Zwernemann was involved in the Georgetown Main Street Program façade and sign matching grant program. Liberty Hill’s program is similar.

“Now they (Georgetown) are a Main Street designated city. We’re not,” Clennan said. “But we did use some of the criteria on facades and signs.”

Per the program, the EDC matches up to $5,000 for a façade improvement. If a facade is $50,000, the city will still go up to at most, $5,000.

He pointed to Star of Texas Realty Group, or MRVNEVN Investments, LLC, as an example.

“They’re going to put some new stone façade on their building,” Clennan said. “They’ve put in a request and are looking up to $5,000. So we’re going to help them out in that regard.”

Eric Van Natter, co-owner of Star of Texas Realty Group, is a member of the EDC Board of Directors. City officials say he abstained from voting on the facade grant to his business.

“It’s all reimbursements,” Clennan explained. “They have to do the work first. Show invoices. They’ll get reimbursed after the fact.”

He said he hopes the program will also help improve downtown Liberty Hill. “The curb appeal – because right now there’s several vacant buildings,” he said. “Have more vitality and foster a sense of place for residents and visitors to gather.”

There is more Clennan would like to do downtown in partnership with the area’s merchants to make it more marketable.

“I’d love to make it more livable,” Clennan said. “To actually have artists and folks down here … this little jewel just needs a little polishing.”

Clennan hopes the matching grant program will be renewed every year provided there is funding available for it.

“It’s $100,000 a year,” he said. “If we go through $25,000 façade matching grants in one year, well that pretty much cooks it so it’s done.”

The program would go into effect on Oct. 1.

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