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CDCB gets GBIC offer: Some question feasibility of another industrial park

November 11, 2018

The Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation has made an offer on 200 acres owned by the Community Development Corporation of Brownsville near the Brownsville Sports Park, though it’s nowhere near what CDCB is asking.

That’s according to CDCB Executive Director Nick Mitchell-Bennett, who had earlier presented GBIC with a substantially higher asking price. GBIC is interested in the land as part of an 1,100-acre industrial park it wants to develop based on GBIC’s 2011 Brownsville Industrial Area Plan, which the economic-development organization has lately dusted off and prioritized.

Skeptics have questioned the plan’s current feasibility and necessity, especially since Brownsville already has empty industrial parks, though GBIC Executive Director Mario Lozoya said he’s simply working to implement the city’s vision as expressed in a GBIC industrial development plan released seven years ago, and in doing so, create jobs and prosperity.

In August, CDCB was on the verge of breaking ground on Palo Alto Groves, an innovative, mixed-income residential subdivision that would feature about 375 single-family homes and 300 or 400 multi-family “casitas” for rent, plus two parks and five miles of hike-and-bike trails. IDEA Public Schools had purchased an adjacent tract and allocated money for construction of a school to serve the subdivision.

The city of Brownsville had already approved the plat for phase one of Palo Alto Groves, and was set to approve CDCB’s rezoning request for phase two when GBIC intervened and asked that the item be tabled, which happened at the Aug. 21 and Aug. 28 city commission meetings. Commissioners instructed CDCB and GBIC to find a compromise that would work for both parties.

GBIC owns 350 acres within the boundaries of its proposed industrial park, and last month asked the city to rezone the parcel from residential/light industrial to heavy industrial. GBIC subsequently withdrew the request at the urging of Mitchell-Bennett.

Mitchell-Bennett said he offered GBIC the option of buying the 200 acres in its entirety or, alternately, a portion of the land, which would effectively serve as a buffer between the subdivision and the industrial park.

“We had a couple of meetings and they were pretty much no, (we) want all of it and we’re going to do what we can to get it all,” he said. “They did say to us go ahead, do your first phase, and we’ll take the rest.

“Financially, it’s not possible for us to do the first phase and sell the rest, particularly given the fact that they’ve threatened to put heavy industrial in there.”

Mitchell-Bennett said negotiations with Lozoya have been cordial, though he expressed annoyance with GBIC, which Mitchell-Bennett said disrupted a shovel-ready project that would help address the city’s dire shortage of affordable housing and serve as a model for the rest of the state, if not the country.

Before GBIC’s recent offer on the land, he said, the organization sent Mitchell-Bennett a contract that would have pledged CDCB to selling the 200 acres for an undetermined sum somewhere between CDCB’s appraisal and whatever appraisal GBIC eventually came back with. He called the contract as a nonstarter from the CDCB board’s point of view.

Mitchell-Bennett said he was denied an opportunity to speak at an Oct. 26 GBIC special meeting, where he’d planned to make a last-ditch pitch for developing both projects alongside each other, using the innovative residential-commercial redevelopment of Mueller Municipal Airport in Austin as way to illustrate what is possible.

“GBIC is a great organization,” he said. “It can do great things. CDCB is a great organization. It can do great things. There’s no reason we can’t agree.”

Members of the GBIC’s own board have questioned the necessity and feasibility of the industrial park plan, noting that the numerous landowners who own the rest of the 800 acres or so GBIC would need would also have to be willing to sell.

“These are things that would take years, to slowly get all these contiguous pieces,” said Nurith Galonsky, who was removed as a GBIC board member on Oct. 16.

Galonsky was one of two GBIC commissioners who refused to sign a letter to CDCB stating GBIC’s intent to buy the 200 acres. She said it was because no price had been discussed, and not because she was necessarily opposed to the industrial park idea.

“I’ve never said I was against it,” Galonsky said. “I’ve only been against it to the point where I’m not going to agree to something unless I know the price. If it was a reasonable price and I knew that the plan made sense, then I might vote in favor of it.”

There’s also the question of paying for it, she said, adding that using GBIC’s unreserved funds to buy the land from CDCB would leave little money for anything else. That’s why, according to Galonsky, GBIC Chairman Cesar de Leon discussed with city officials the possibility of the city buying the 200 acres and then gifting it to GBIC.

“At the end of the day GBIC’s not going to have any money to do anything,” said GBIC board member John Cowen.

Cowen has also questioned the industrial park plan, likewise refusing to sign the letter of intent and, more recently, voting “no” on granting Lozoya authority to negotiate the purchase.

“I’m against the deal overall,” he said. “I’m against the purchase of this property. During my last four years on the board we have never referenced this plan once. I didn’t even know it existed.”

Cowen said he’s concerned that an industrial park — especially one zoned for heavy industry — could be detrimental to users of the Sports Park and residents of nearby subdivisions that have been built since the 2011 plan was commissioned.

“I think we really need to relook at all this and make sure we’re doing the right thing for Brownsville,” he said.

Lozoya said the area in question, bordered by Old Alice Road, Paredes Line Road, S.H. 550/F.M. 511 and Union Pacific railroad tracks, was officially designated an industrial corridor in 2009, and that the 2011 plan followed from that designation. When he started with GBIC in July, Lozoya asked to review GBIC’s assets and learned that the organization’s 350 acres inside a designated industrial corridor were zoned residential, he said.

“That was an issue for me,” Lozoya said. “(GBIC commissioners) asked for my advice, and my advice was, well, if the city’s going to adopt an industrial corridor, we’re going to make an industrial corridor. My interest was to help the city achieve the 2009 accepted footprint. If somebody says, well, it’s a good idea, a bad idea — it’s not Mario’s idea.”

Lozoya said he has maintained from the start that both projects are worth doing, and that he has been working amicably with Mitchell-Bennett on a solution.

“I think the city of Brownsville, I think the people want to have good jobs, and our goal is to bring industries for them to assume these jobs, and I need resources for that,” he said. “I also know that we need homes.”

Lozoya said GBIC is not pursuing the industrial park because of a specific prospect on the horizon, just that the city needs to be ready when opportunity knocks. (An Indiana-based company, Steel Dynamics Inc., has expressed interest in the area, according to Galonsky, who owns land there.)

"I think it’s a good idea to have assets to offer a prospect,” Lozoya said. “I think any community that wants to grow and wants to be economically prosperous and be able to be competitive might want to have resources available in case somebody comes knocking on the door.”

Mitchell-Bennett said GBIC’s offer, along with CDCB’s next move, likely will be discussed at CDCB upcoming board meeting scheduled for Nov. 13.

sclark@brownsvilleherald.com

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