San Antonio City Council unanimously approved Thursday changes to a board that is responsible for allocating millions of tax dollars toward economic development and infrastructure projects north of downtown.
The Midtown TIRZ (Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone) has a new mission, extended lifetime and a new board.
The TIRZ, which receives funding by collecting the increased property taxes associated with new development or redevelopment within its boundaries, will now focus on four city-owned properties along the cultural corridor, including the Witte Museum, San Antonio Zoo, San Antonio Botanical Garden and Brackenridge Park.
Previously, the Midtown TIRZ has been used to help spur job creation and housing, but “we have a lot of city-owned facilities that are in disrepair [or have] deferred maintenance, and we need to take care of those,” Assistant City Manager Lori Houston told the council.
The change in focus was sparked by council conversations last year regarding the 2022 municipal bond, Houston said. “There was a desire to have more district-local projects [in the bond].”
To create more capacity in future bonds for district projects, the TIRZ will now take on larger, citywide assets such as these cultural institutions, she said.
“This will be a funding source unique to the city … for the purpose of maintaining our own structures, but also to alleviate [some of] the competition” for bond money, Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2) said.
The city worked with those four organizations to produce a 10-year funding plan for big projects that required a 10-year extension of the TIRZ to 2041. That extension was approved by Council, but the dedicated funding for each project from the TIRZ is not yet set in stone.
“This is not a one-and-done thing,” Houston said. “There [are] going to be several meetings and there will be several council approvals necessary to approve the funding … for the city-owned facilities.”
Project plans also have to be approved by both the TIRZ board and City Council — and if a project isn’t fully funded by June 2025, the money will be reallocated to another project.
The most controversial of those projects is Brackenridge Park Conservancy’s proposed $62 million renovation of the dilapidated Sunken Garden Theater, which has drawn the ire of many in the nearby River Road Neighborhood. The project is slated to receive $5 million in the bond, which is subject to council and then voter approval, but the debate continues about how a concert venue with the capacity for 7,000 people will impact the neighborhood.
If bond funding isn’t approved for the theater — or any project — then the TIRZ board and council will reevaluate the funding plan, City Manager Erik Walsh said. “If [anything] changes, then it would be appropriate for us to have this same type of conversation at the council level before we figure out how to rebuild.”
In 2021, the Midtown TIRZ captured $7.2 million in property tax growth, and is expected to reach $18 million by 2041, said Finance Director Troy Elliott.
“A lot of that’s already committed” to current TIRZ projects, Elliott explained, so the revenue that will be used to finance these projects will not be collected for several years.
The Witte Museum, San Antonio Zoo and the San Antonio Botanical Garden will present their capital project plans to the new Midtown TIRZ board next week, and then to council on Feb. 10 for approval. Council will also vote to approve the final project lists for each of the five bond programs during that meeting.
The Sunken Garden project will be reviewed at a later date, to give the city and Brackenridge Park Conservatory more time to gather additional public input, Houston said.
Established in 2008, the Midtown TIRZ board has been made up of 15 members who were appointed by council representatives from districts 1 and 2.
Last week, City staff was considering a much smaller, five-member board that would include city executives and leaders of the cultural organizations to serve four-year terms.
But after a rousing public meeting about the Sunken Gardens on Monday, McKee-Rodriguez and Councilman Mario Bravo (D1) requested more community participation in the TIRZ board.
The city proposed adding two residents of River Road and Mahnke Park, to be appointed by McKee-Rodriguez and Bravo.
Bravo successfully amended that further to include another two appointments for a total of four members appointed by districts 1 and 2. The appointees do not have to be members of neighborhood associations.
They will join Houston (appointed by the city manager), Director of Parks and Recreation Homer Garcia, Elliott and two representatives from two of the cultural institutions. The latter two spots will rotate among the entities every four years.