EDC discusses park agreement, incentives



Although no vote was taken, directors of the City’s Economic Development Corp. had another frank discussion last week about the possibility of the City taking over the ownership and maintenance of Lions Foundation Park.

The issue of park ownership has in recent months become important to EDC directors who are being asked to approve funding for a sculpture park that would be contained within the Foundation Park on Loop 332. For some time, the City of Liberty Hill has provided mowing and landscaping services at the park, but the park is owned and managed by the Liberty Hill Development Foundation.

The second draft of an agreement was presented to EDC members just minutes before the meeting Feb. 12, therefore, no action was taken on the document. Members were encouraged to review it and be prepared to take action at the panel’s March meeting.

In January, the Development Foundation requested the EDC provide $100,000 in matching funds so that the private organization can seek grants to create a sculpture park. The group plans to relocate the sculptures from the campus of Liberty Hill Intermediate School into the park, creating a destination for tourists and art lovers.

The sculptures were built by internationally renowned artists in 1976 to celebrate the nation’s bicentennial. The month-long event was called the Liberty Hill International Sculpture Symposium. The giant structures were moved from downtown to the school campus in 1987.

In January, the EDC Board agreed to pay consultant Pix Howell $25,000 to create a plan for the sculpture park that will include a park design, a plan for relocating the artwork and a budget.

EDC directors say the City should have control of the park to protect its investment.

“The City needs control of the project because the City will be ultimately responsible for it,” said Frank Spinosa, EDC chairman.

“The Lions Club created it (the park),” said City Manager Greg Boatright. “They did a yeoman’s task in creating it. Their membership is older and a lot of them have passed on. So the next step in the history of Foundation Park is that the City is going to take it over. The timing depends on whether the (Development Foundation) Board has the comfort level in the City and its leadership is of a mindset that they are willing to maintain it. But yes, we are doing that already.

“Their relationship with the City has been rocky in the past,” he added.

Director John Johnston questioned what recourse the City would have if the EDC provided the funding and the Development Foundation “never felt comfortable” enough to turn it over.

Boatright suggested a date certain for a transfer of ownership be included in the agreement.

“It forces the issue,” Boatright said. “It should be in a timeline to happen sooner than later.”

Spinosa added that the transfer of ownership should be irrevocable.

No representatives were present from the Development Foundation, but Boatright said a draft of the agreement would be provided to them prior to the EDC’s March meeting.

Also last week, the Board voted unanimously to approve a job description for the Executive Director’s position.

“We are looking for candidates, and we want someone as rapidly as we can,” said Spinosa. “Now we have something in place for the City Council so this can be (handled) in an orderly fashion.”

The position, which is currently held by Boatright on a part-time basis, will be a full-time job with a salary range of $50,000-$70,000.

The Board agreed to postpone action on an application from Bella Sera Restaurant for $160,000 in incentives to assist the business with fees and infrastructure as it plans a summer opening on Brown Bridge Road.

“We need a professional application process for this. We’ve opened pandora’s box and we need to close it,” Spinosa said.

So far, the EDC has provided funding at the request of Liberty Hill Dental to install a larger water line and place a fire hydrant near the business, which will benefit all water customers along the highway. Liberty Hill Dental is expanding its business there.

Director Brian Butler said the City of Leander offers no incentives for businesses looking to open there.

“In my opinion, I don’t like someone buying land, then coming to us to ask for help. There are lots of businesses established in this area (that bore the costs without assistance),” Butler said. “This company (Bella Sera) is already coming here.”

“We just happen to be in the right place at the right time,” Spinosa added. “We have to be astute about how we spend our funds.”

Following the discussion, the Board voted to table the item until a new EDC Executive Director is hired.

In other business last week, the EDC Board approved the sponsorship of Legos Summer Camps in Liberty Hill with Play-Well TEKnologies. The camps will not cost the City anything as campers will pay the vendor $125 each to participate.

“This puts us on the map to have something for summer,” said City Secretary Barbara Zwernemann, who added that the idea was brought forward by EDC Director Lance Dean. Dean was not present last Thursday.

The City will provide a location for the camps and Play-Well provides all of the marketing materials, she said.

The Board voted to allocate up to $1,000 to help with the project as needed.

The EDC Board discussed but took no action on a description and application for the downtown Facade Reimbursement Grant program. Boatright asked for ideas from board members as to a limit for each grant and how often grants should be awarded. The EDC budgeted $50,000 in fiscal 2014 for a facade improvement grant program.

Also Thursday, the Board discussed a request by the Chamber of Commerce to help fund a community guide, which will include a directory of businesses, that will be distributed to every household in early summer.

“The Chamber is asking the EDC to be a backstop for the guide if ad sales are not enough to cover the cost of production,” Boatright said. “But we don’t know what that is right now, so the money is not known.”

The Board agreed that every business should be able to be listed in a directory for a minimal charge, and businesses would have additional options for advertising.

“The Chamber is doing its best to become a player in the business community, and they’re looking for a partnership with the EDC,” Boatright said. “If we give an indication that we are willing to partner to help, that is good enough for now. Once they have the proposals, we will know what that is.”

Also, the Board discussed names of individuals who might be interested in serving on the panel in the future. Eric Van Natter was discussed as a possible candidate. Van Natter owns Star of Texas Realty Group and currently serves as president of the Christian Business Leaders Association.