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College Station Announces Hotel/conf Center Plans


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Ready to ROLL the DICE

By APRIL AVISON

Eagle Staff Writer

Nearly a decade has passed and two deals have fallen through in College Station's effort to build a hotel-convention center. But officials say they've taken a new approach with their latest project, and they expect within five weeks to make an announcement on the details of a facility planned for the Northgate entertainment district.

The city plans to put up $25 million for a 90,000-square-foot convention center with a ballroom, exhibit hall and meeting space. The adjacent 10-story hotel, financed by Marriott, Marriott Renaissance, DoubleTree or Embassy Suites, would feature 200 to 300 rooms and include a restaurant, workout room, pool and bar, said College Station Economic Development Director Kim Foutz. A parking garage also is planned.

Cash-flow projections aren't available right now, Foutz said, although she added that "convention centers do not make money."

The city is in talks with three developers, one of whom will be selected to oversee construction.

Foutz confirmed last week that the city is considering a 3-acre tract of undeveloped land between St. Mary's Catholic Church and the former Albertson's grocery store building, near the intersection of University Drive and College Avenue. The land is owned by Jack Culpepper's Stalworth Corp. The Culpepper family also owns the Albertson's shopping center.

Culpepper said Friday he is working with hotel developer Drake Leddy, CEO of Presidian Destinations in San Antonio, on a proposal for the College Station project. He said Leddy has experience with several hoteliers.

Culpepper said he went with Foutz and some College Station City Council members in June on a trip to the Dallas area to look at hotel-convention centers and "get a feel for what the projects look like there."

Father and son John and Jack Culpepper are well-known in Bryan-College Station for developing Culpepper Plaza at Harvey Road and Texas Avenue, and the Tejas Center on Villa Maria Road.

Jack Culpepper said he communicates with Foutz's office on a weekly basis but has not been told by Foutz or any city officials whether his site is their first choice.

This is College Station's third attempt to build a hotel-convention center. A proposal in the Wolf Pen Creek area dissolved in 1995, and plans with TAC Realty for a facility in the "30/60 Corridor" bound by Earl Rudder Freeway South, Harvey Road, University Drive and F.M. 158 fell through in August 2003. Both failures were blamed on financial constraints.

Texas A&M University recently discussed the possibility of leasing land off South College Avenue north of campus for a hotel-convention center, but officials said last week they won't pursue those plans if College Station moves forward with its facility.

Another proposal offered by California businessman Leonard Ross has not received a warm reception from the city. Ross wants to tie in his 300-room Plaza Hotel and Suites, formerly University Tower, to a convention center at the corner of Texas Avenue and University Drive.

But the location is too far from Northgate, and the surrounding land isn't compatible with the city's plans for urban development, Mayor Ron Silvia explained.

College Station officials say Northgate is where the hotel-convention center should be built based on numerous consultant recommendations and the city's initiative to revitalize that area because of its potential for mixed-use development.

"One of the things we identified in our Northgate redevelopment plan was the need for another anchor over there," Foutz said.

Although negotiations are under way, the city plans to pay for the land and construction of the two-story convention center, and the hotelier will pay for the hotel land and construction, Foutz said. Shared space, including an atrium, loading dock and laundry facility, will be paid for by both entities in the public-private partnership, she said.

To help fund the project, the city plans to create a tax increment financing district to collect property taxes on all new development in the Northgate area - from Wellborn Road to College Avenue along University Drive - for 20 years.

An analysis is not complete, Foutz said, but she expects the hotel-convention center will generate about $150 million in new property value. Taxes on those properties will go toward repaying the debt.

City officials also agreed to pledge 100 percent of all hotel/motel occupancy taxes generated by the new facility to repay the debt.

A deficit during the first year of operation is projected at $413,000. That eventually will fall to about $200,000 per year, Foutz said.

Figures associated with the project are from an analysis by CH Johnson Consulting Inc.

Brazos County has been asked to partner in the financing district but has not yet responded to the request, officials said.

Silvia said the city does not plan to take the funding issue before voters in a referendum. But, he said, "we will take it out to the community" by way of town hall meetings.

Foutz said she may be ready to announce the date for the first community town hall meeting this week.

www.theeagle.com

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It is interesting to me that the location that has much more land around it for development/redevelopment, that being the Plaza(University) Tower site, is not the leading proposal.

Bryan should have been a bit more creative in tryong to land a conference center. There are a couple of perfect locations with loads of development/redevelopment

potential, both a few miles from Texas A&M, that are currently underutilized.

The good news for Bryan is that all these possible locations, including the defunct TAC proposal, are within .5-1 mile of the Bryan city limits. If Bryan is not able to reap benefits from that proximity...

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In regards to the supposed lack of development in Bryan, Brazos County is set to start construction of the Brazos Expo Center on Bryan's far westside any day now, a project that has been on the drawing board for nearly 20 years. Unfortunately, in recent months the plans for the Expo Center have been scaled back dramatically due to the high price of steel, etc, so much so that many residents are openly wondering why the thing is even being built if it is going to be a completely different facility than the one proposed by the County Commissioners that voters had to approve bonds to pay for.

Having worked closely with the city leaders of Bryan in the past two years, I can say that those at Bryan City hall are concetrating more on increasing the city's tax rolls by encouraging the development of more affluent housing options and luring longterm businesses and industries to the city. Originally Bryan and College Station were working as partners to build the hotel/conference center project (on the Bryan/College border in the extended University Drive East next to the under-constructionhighrise that Don Adams is building to house the headquarters of his Adam Corp), along with the area's own Daddy Warbucks Don Adam, but the deal fell apart when studies showed that not only would the project cost substanially more than originally thought, but in addition the payoff from the hotel/center would not in the long run be that great of a benefit. The breakup of the three-way partnership was acrimonios to say the least, as it led to the intense rivalry between the City of Bryan and Don Adam in building competing upscale housing developments/golf courses on opposite end of town (the city-financed Traditions on the west and Adam's eye-catching Miramont on the east), a fight which included name-calling, backstabbing, and courtroom litigation, with Adam openly accusing city leaders of trying to sabatogue Miramont to protect the huge city investment in Traditions.

The city of Bryan is already in the hotel business, as we own the historic and newly restored LaSalle Hotel in downtown, arguably one of the best in the Brazos Valley. However, the hotel has always been a write-off for the city, as the only time you see more than five guests staying there is during the few weekends in the fall for TAMU home football games. However, the city believes the hotel provides a powerful example of the commitment to revitilizing downtown, so it keeps the doors open without a second thought.

I have years of experience in the hotel/hospitality industry, and I can tell you that what is happening with all the hotel construction in College Station is a mess waiting to happen. College Station's leaders have a grand dream of making their city some kind of vacation hotspot for tourists in the near-future and honestly believe all of these new establishments can survive along with the hotels already here. HAving worked for some time at one of the College Station hotels, I can personally testify to the fact that the ONLY time the area hotels go above 40-50% occupancy is during the five or six fall TAMU football games, and which ever hotels get lucky to house the annual influx of EMS trainees coming to attend the Firemen's School in the spring. Besides those times, the hotels are GIVING rooms away for as little as $30.00 a night and alway desperately searching for ideas on how to stay out of the red. The hotels already here are constantly changing ownership as one bails after another after realizing how dire the market is. TAMU alone cannot support all of them. They thought that perhaps the opening of the George H.W. Bush Library a few years ago would spike a tourism surge, but that has not occured (who takes an overnight trip to go to a presidential library anyway?).

The idea that this area can somehow suddenly become overnight a convention hotspot is ridiculous to say the least. When longtime established convention favorite MAJOR CITIES such as Dallas, Atlanta, Denver, Miami, etc are still desperately trying to get back the huge amount of convention business lost following Sept. 11, I don't know what makes CS think they can mount a serious challenge in this arena.

I have been impressed for nearly twenty years with the consistent growth of CS, but in the past few years the development has begun to grow faster than it should. The transportation infrastructure first and foremost is not ready especially on University Drive for huge developments such as Resturant Row and the mixed-use project going up. There are no plans to expand Earl Rudder Freeway anytime soon, and it shows signs now of congestion, not to mention the area's main thoroughfare Texas Avenue, which for years has been a disaster going through CS. Now with the city officials of CS turning city hall into a weekly battleground in a constant power struggle, it doesn't look like we can look to them for sound leadership in this area.

Meanwhile, Bryan is moving about its growth and development carefully and making sure to maintain clear goals and planning. The focus of Bryan is to increase the profile of the experience of living and working in a family-orientated community that is warm and inviting, not to mention comfrotable, to all, hence their new P/R campaign "Bryan..the good life, Texas Style". Common sense, and not pipe dreams and haphazard sprawl, is leading the way in Bryan after years of dormant and lazy policies when it came to retaining and attracting new blood.

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I am happy to see all of the development in College Station, it makes the BCS area look less like a small town and more like an up and coming Metro. Even if we can support all of the new hotels, mabe by them opening up some of the older hotels will close. Then they can be torn down and redeveloped.

By the way, what happened to Rock Fish? (on University) I thought they where doing so well because it's always crowded, but now there closed. Does anyone know?

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Kenneth, I find your posts to be very informative. I will give College Station credit though, in the seven years that I have been in and out of this town, I can't believe how much it has changed in terms of fanciness and an overall "established" feel. I am a bit sad in a way that it has lost its small town feel, though I guess that was bound to happen. What I can't get over though is the traffic - why don't they time the freaking lights? You have to stop at every light. That, and the horrendous eyesore that is the University Tower, are the biggest things holding College Station back.

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Kenneth, I find your posts to be very informative.  I will give College Station credit though, in the seven years that I have been in and out of this town, I can't believe how much it has changed in terms of fanciness and an overall "established" feel.  I am a bit sad in a way that it has lost its small town feel, though I guess that was bound to happen.  What I can't get over though is the traffic - why don't they time the freaking lights?  You have to stop at every light.  That, and the horrendous eyesore that is the University Tower, are the biggest things holding College Station back.

Yes this area has grown alot since I was a little kid. I kind of miss the way it was, but then again this is the way I always wanted it to be. When I was younger I use to ask my parents why can't Bryan/College Station be like Houston with the big frreways, buildings, people, etc. Now I know that it would take MANY YEARS to get to the point to where Houston is but now my home town is much more livable. New retail, houses, buildings, and bussinesess have woken up this sleepy town and turned it into a small city that I hardly know. I will always miss the old B/CS but I can't wait for the future!

The University Tower needs to be fixed quickly! Mabe they can redo the outside.

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Actually the owner of University Tower, as very successful and wealthy developer from the West Coast, has repeatedly offered to renovate and upgrade the property to serve as the hotel component of the hotel/conference center the city leaders are so desperate to see built. He also owns the land beside the Tower that he has offered to donate to construct the conference center. His offers have been repeatedly spurned by the city, although taking him up on his proposal would save College Station millions of dollars in construction and operational costs of a hotel. In the past few years the guy has throw numerous parties promoting the city and his development proposals (which include more controlled transportation ideas) in the penthouse suite on the top floor of the Tower.

In regards to transportation issues, TxDot wanted to make major changes to the highly congested and very dangerous intersection of Texas Ave and University Drive (at which the Tower sits) by constructing either an overpass or created a trench or tunnel for one of the thoroughfares. However, the city leaders of College Station (of course) objected to this and now TxDot has to go back to the drawing board.

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  • 5 weeks later...

In another sign that College Station city government is headed to hell in a hand-basket...

There in the past few weeks been a calls for the city council to take the issue of whether to put up $25 million of taxpayers' money to build the hotel/conference center to the ballot box. At first it seemed as if the council would put the measure on the ballot for voters to give it a yay or nay...

Then came the city council meeting on August 29, at which time the newly-elected council (made up of a majority proclaiming fiscal conservatism) rejected the ballot proposal, giving the lame excuse that since state law only allows city elections to be held in November of May, then the council wouldn't be able to assemble enough information on the project in time for November, and by golly those fast-moving council members will be darned if they have to wait SIX MONTHS for a vote. The highlight of the evening was when the president of the Brazos Valley Lodging Association, Ron Fulton, spoke before the council, declaring, "The taxpayers of College Station don't have any stake in this project. If you all need anyone's opinion, it is ours (the Lodging Association) and we say build."

I thought the time of College Station becoming an open laughingstock was years in the making...if this keeps up, it will happen in before the New Year!

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In another sign that College Station city government is headed to hell in a hand-basket...

There in the past few weeks been a calls for the city council to take the issue of whether to put up $25 million of taxpayers' money to build the hotel/conference center to the ballot box. At first it seemed as if the council would put the measure on the ballot for voters to give it a yay or nay...

Then came the city council meeting on August 29, at which time the newly-elected council (made up of a majority proclaiming fiscal conservatism) rejected the ballot proposal, giving the lame excuse that since state law only allows city elections to be held in November of May, then the council wouldn't be able to assemble enough information on the project in time for November, and by golly those fast-moving council members will be darned if they have to wait SIX MONTHS for a vote. The highlight of the evening was when the president of the Brazos Valley Lodging Association, Ron Fulton, spoke before the council, declaring, "The taxpayers of College Station don't have any stake in this project. If you all need anyone's opinion, it is ours (the Lodging Association) and we say build."

I thought the time of College Station becoming an open laughingstock was years in the making...if this keeps up, it will happen in before the New Year!

Kenneth:

Being new to this whole thread, I need the nickel tour.

Did the council approve or reject the measure allowing the conference center/hotel project to move forward?

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  • 2 months later...

College Station Project Nears Launch

Council may OK newest hotel-convention center

By APRIL AVISON

Eagle Staff Writer

Negotiations with a San Antonio-based developer for the construction of a multimillion-dollar hotel and convention center in College Station's Northgate entertainment district could begin this week.

The planned site is 4.29 acres on Church Avenue between St. Mary's Catholic Church and College Avenue. It includes a portion of the former Albertson's shopping center.

College Station is planning to spend up to $25 million on a 90,000-square-foot, city-owned convention center. The planned 10-story Marriott hotel - which could cost up to $37.5 million - will be paid for and owned by developer Drake Leddy and his investment group.

The city's economic development director, Kim Foutz, said Wednesday she is working with property owner Jack Culpepper to finalize a price for the land. If that is accomplished before the City Council's meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday, the city leaders will be asked to approve a document authorizing the launch of legally binding agreements.

"[Pending council approval,] we're going to initiate full-fledged negotiations and start the design work," Foutz said.

The land in question is a 4.29-acre site on Church Avenue between St. Mary's Catholic Church and College Avenue. It includes a portion of the former Albertson's shopping center.

"It's a dense area, and because we have a confined amount of space, we're going to have to build up," said Charles Wood, assistant director of economic development.

Culpepper has agreed to provide the land as an equity contribution, and if the project comes to fruition, he will have partial ownership of the hotel and can receive a percentage of the profits.

Foutz said Wednesday that Culpepper plans to sell the vacant Albertson's building, which would be demolished so that the land can be used for the hotel-convention center. Other businesses in the shopping center, such as Hancock Fabrics and Hurricane Harry's nightclub, would remain in place.

Leddy, CEO of San Antonio-based Presidian Destinations, would be responsible for development of the hotel-convention center and operation of the hotel. It hasn't yet been determined who would operate the convention center.

Leddy has developed similar projects in Texas, New Mexico, California and Missouri.

"Leddy has a group of investors that he regularly deals with on these projects," Foutz said. "Once those investors are determined, that information will be made available to the public."

History

College Station has attempted twice before to build a hotel-convention center.

In 1997, a $6 million project planned in the Wolf Pen Creek district dissolved because the developer could not meet financial obligations.

Then, in 2003, a hotel-conference center project planned for the "30/60 Corridor" in eastern College Station was scrapped because of high costs. The city's partner, TAC Realty, opted out of the deal after saying the price tag for the hotel would exceed the $38 million maximum.

College Station's economic development officials say they plan to place safeguards in any future contracts to ensure such a scenario won't happen again.

"What happened with TAC was the project went over budget and they decided to walk," Wood said. "The way this is engineered, there's a requirement if it gets over budget, to huddle, and cut from the plan until it does meet budget."

Once negotiations begin, it will take about a year for the design process and general contractor selection and to get financing plans and development agreements in place, according to documents released by College Station's economic development office. Construction is expected to take 18 months.

Financing

A tax increment financing, or TIF, district will be proposed to the City Council for adoption in January to provide funding for the project, Foutz said.

The TIF district would be bounded by Wellborn Road, University Drive, College Avenue and the Bryan city limits.

The financing mechanism, if approved, will allow the city to use property taxes on new construction within that zone over a 20-year period to repay the debt issued to build the convention center.

City officials have not released cash flow projections but have said they expect the facility to operate at a deficit of about $200,000 per year. The development will, however, generate hotel-motel taxes, which can be used for specified purposes such as arts and tourism but cannot go into College Station's general fund.

Foutz has said she expects the hotel-convention center to generate about $150 million in new property value.

• April Avison's e-mail address is april.avison@theeagle.com.

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It'll be nice to see another multi-story building in Northgate. This along with Gameday on the other end will make it a different place.

Yeah, looks like the beginning of a mid-rise town center for College Station. Its on awesome location, northgate, A&M across the street, and Bryan's city limits is only a few blocks away on Wellborn Rd. and South College Ave, Easterwood down University Dr. 2 miles... Good central location.

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