EDC hires park consultant, discusses new executive director



Directors of the City’s Economic Development Corp. approved a plan last week to pay $25,000 to a consultant who will seek grants and design a portion of Lions Foundation Park that will become home to sculptures.

After much discussion Jan. 15 and in a previous meeting, the EDC Board voted unanimously to award a contract to Pix Howell to design a place inside the park for sculptures created in 1976 as part of the International Sculpture Symposium. Liberty Hill hosted the event to celebrate the nation’s bicentennial that year, and artists donated the finished sculptures to the community.

For years, they have been housed on the grounds of what is now Liberty Hill Intermediate School. However, the Liberty Hill Development Foundation, which oversees Foundation Park, is seeking to relocate the statues to the park and turn it into a destination for art lovers and tourists.

City Manager Greg Boatright, who also serves as director of the EDC, said Howell will create a budget, a design for the sculpture park and a plan for relocating the artwork to the park and maintaining it. Once the EDC is presented with the plan, it will be asked to fund another $100,000 that will serve as matching funds for possible grants to pay for the sculpture park.

EDC President Frank Spinosa questioned the process.

“Why would the City want to come up with $100,000 to turn over to another outfit out of the City’s control?” he asked. “We’re talking about developing a business here. We’re doing something without a specific set of numbers.”

“This is seed money for developing the statue park,” said Boatright. “If we can take $100,000 from EDC into a fund to double that…it will take $200,000 to develop the park. When it opens, we want it to be ready. We don’t want to be back in two years still working on it. We don’t want it to be a work in progress.”

Boatright said the sculptures would be positioned on a lighted pathway in a shaded area behind the fire station, but not on the recreational fields. He said the City’s attorney had not yet drafted a document that would serve as an agreement between the City and the Development Foundation, so no action was taken last week on the allocation of the seed money.

Although Boatright explained that the money would not be utilized for anything other than matching funds and that both the EDC Board and the Development Foundation Board would have control over expenditures, Director Brian Butler said the EDC Board should see a detailed plan for the park before it makes an allocation.

“This money will be tied to a grant,” said Gary Spivey, who attended the meeting representing the Development Foundation. “It can’t be used for anything else in the park. We built the park 26 years ago and have $4 million in assets (with the sculptures), which were valued at $1.2 million when they were built. $100,000 is just a drop in the bucket compared to what we have invested (for the community).”

Spinosa questioned the possibility of the City one day owning Lions Foundation Park.

“As we progress with this project, yes, the City would like to have the park deeded as a city park,” Boatright said. “We’re trying to present ourselves to the (Foundation) Board as we go along.”

In recent years, the City has been mowing the park.

“A group came to us a couple years ago wanting us to give it (the park) to them because they wanted to keep the riff raff out of the park,” said Spivey. “We suggested to them to give us a couple of years and show us what you can put into it. Not a one of them ever came back.

“A lot of people in Liberty Hill don’t understand what they have out there. It’s time for Liberty Hill to work together and not haggle over who owns it. The entire community has used it for 26 years, and at some point, it probably will belong to the City,” Spivey said.

“At the end of the day, this will put Liberty Hill on the map as a destination point,” Boatright said. “Our town is looking for something that identifies the town. This is our ticket.”

EDC Executive Director

In other business last week, the Board discussed the possible employment of a new executive director.

Since 2012, Boatright has been serving in the capacity with half of his salary paid by the EDC and the other half paid by the City’s General Fund for his duties as city manager.

Although Spinosa said the position will be advertised until filled, Board members have already interviewed a candidate.

Based on the discussion last Thursday, there appears to be a consensus that Kirk Clennan should be hired for the position, which Boatright said carries a salary of about $70,000.

“I was impressed with his background and experience. I think it would be a good move to have someone actually pursuing other businesses to come to Liberty Hill,” said Lance Dean.

Clennan was Economic Development Director for the City of Leander from 2005 to October 2012. From January-December 2013, he was Membership & Economic Development Director for the Greater Austin-San Antonio Corridor Council in San Marcos. Prior to his work in Leander, he worked in economic development for the cities of Cedar Park, Lancaster and Longview, as well as Upshur County. Boatright said that Clennan is currently working in the private sector in the Buda area.

“We tried to get him here two years ago,” added Butler. “He would be a good asset for us.”

EDC members agree that Boatright’s time is better spent as city manager.

“In the beginning when I was hired, the EDC was really the only solvent body in city government,” Boatright said after the meeting. “So they took it upon themselves to try to help.”

He said absorbing his entire salary into the General Fund will not be an issue.

“We have improved the (financial) position of the city, so we’re on good financial ground,” Boatright said.

Boatright said the City Council will need to approve the employment of an executive director, and some EDC members plan to make the request official at an upcoming council meeting.

Bella Sera seeking EDC support

The Marble Falls-based Bella Sera Italian Restaurant will open a Liberty Hill restaurant this summer and spoke to directors last week about the possibility of obtaining financial assistance offered as incentives through the EDC.

The restaurant will be located at 13985 W. State Highway 29 and Brown Bridge Road –, the current location of some storage buildings and the former Shot Time Bar. The site also houses JJ’s Liquor, which restaurant owners say will be demolished at a future date and likely used for parking.

Restaurant owners Johnnie Vebi and Ahmet Ukaj have been in the restaurant business 20 years. In addition to the Marble Falls Italian restaurant, Bella Sera is now open in Kerrville.

John Villarreal of Construction Administration and Design Development is working with the owners on the plans for the building. When complete, the 3,500-square-foot restaurant will have seating for 100 and create 25 full-time jobs in Liberty Hill.

“We selected Liberty Hill as the place for our next restaurant. We feel like this is an area looking to grow,” Villarreal said.

Boatright said the restaurant’s request for incentives will be posted on a future EDC meeting agenda for action. He said members had not had time to review the proposal by last Thursday. Boatright said the company is asking the EDC to assume $60,000 worth of fees.

Also requesting EDC incentives is Garland Insulation, which opened in Liberty Hill in fall 2014. While on last week’s agenda, no action was taken as documents were not prepared and representatives of the company were not present.