EDC hears retail recruitment report, approves hotel tax, new grant programs



Directors of the City’s Economic Development Corp. heard an update from The Retail Coach last week regarding efforts to recruit new business to Liberty Hill.

Aaron Farmer, senior vice president of the firm, said the team has entered Phase 6 of the program, whereby retailers are being identified, as well as developers and restaurants.

“We have identified 30 of potentials and developed feasibility packages and marketing packages that try to convince them that they can’t afford not to locate here,” Farmer said.

He said packages specially designed for businesses like Whataburger and HEB, and for over a month he has been communicating with them and others about Liberty Hill.

“We’ve had several good conversations with potential retailers and developers, so we’re progressing at a good rate. The end goal is if we can get them to Liberty Hill, we feel like we can sell them on the community,” Farmer said. He added that for the next several months his firm would be working only on recruitment.

Farmer said after his contract with Liberty Hill first started several months ago, he drove around the community and identified 10-15 prime real estate sites and is sharing those with potential business. He said identifying and sharing information about available properties expedites the recruiting process.

Farmer said so far, he has met with two commercial developers in Austin looking to expand businesses in central Texas.

Executive Director Lance Dean previously told The Independent that he accompanied Farmer on the drive through the community, along with real estate broker and EDC Board member Eric Van Natter.

Farmer said if a potential retailer is interested in one of the properties, he connects them directly with the owner or real estate broker.

The Board met with Farmer in Executive Session for 40 minutes to hear a more detailed update and consult with an attorney, who was not present at the meeting.

In other business last week, the EDC Board voted to recommend that City Council adopt a plan for a sign grant program that would help businesses outside the downtown area improve their signage. Specifically, the Board referenced State Hwy 29 businesses as part of the discussion.

The matching grant, which would be similar to a downtown facade grant currently offered by the EDC, would pay 50 percent of the business’ expenses or up to $5,000.

Board member John Clark, who has been leading the way to develop the program, said the City of Liberty Hill should lead by example and create a sign for the city gateways. In fact, as part of his motion that was approved unanimously, he added that no grants can be awarded until the City gets its signs completed first.

In response to a question about the type of allowable signs by Mayor Connie Fuller, who attended the meeting, Dean said the EDC Board would have final approval over the sign application.

According to the adopted guidelines, the sign would be required to meet current City sign codes, and the preferred sign materials would be stone, stucco and architectural foam.

Board member John Johnston abstained from voting because his business, Dahlia Cafe, is within the area served by the grant.

A Demolition Grant would offer 50 percent or up to $5,000 to help a business remove or demolish a structure on commercial property.

Dean said the grant is intended to help clean a lot so that it can be used for commercial property. He said it isn’t uncommon for someone interested in starting a business to be discouraged by property that contains a dilapidated structure that is costly to remove.

The Board voted unanimously to recommend that Council adopt the program.

Also last week, the Board voted to recommend that Council adopt a 7 percent Hotel Occupancy Tax for the city. The tax would be paid by the traveler and directed to the State, which in turn would pay the City.

Although Liberty Hill has no hotel, the Board agreed it was prudent to put the tax in place now before a hotel builds here. Liberty Hill does have one bed and breakfast, and the tax will apply to guests there.

The Board also approved a contract with National Sign Plaza for the installation and management of plaza signs throughout the community that would direct people to various subdivisions and builders. The signs are of no cost to the City, but would eliminate the use of builder/real estate bandit signs that are permitted on weekends in the right of way.

Dean said the company has 30 suggested locations for the signs, but the list will be narrowed down.

The Board also finalized its budget for fiscal 2017 that will go to Council for final approval.

Also Thursday, the Board voted to spend $11,100 on electrical repairs and improvements at Lions Foundation Park as a sponsorship of the Liberty Hill Christmas Festival and Sculpture Garden Celebration.