El Campo’s council approved a delay in the proposed rail-supported warehouse project timeline Monday night while one city leader announced progress in the economic development effort and another called for a funding halt until developers start actual construction.
Although the Southwest International Gateway Business Park project has been far longer in development than the initial time line, progress is being made in the effort to bring the rail park to El Campo, according to City Manager Courtney Sladek. She told council the developers now had a letter of intent from one prospective client, but added, “I’m not at liberty to say who it is.”
Developers plan to purchase the land for the rail park in November, she added, and already have plans for the construction of a 100,000- and a 220,000-square-foot building on the site, although permits have not yet been issued.
Presenting changes to a development agreement between the city and SFG SWIG Master Devco, LLC. Monday, Sladek said, “I feel pretty strongly these changes will benefit the city.”
The unanimously approved plan calls for the city to annex the project land after its November purchase, but before a Public Improvement District issues bonds on March 1, 2020. The PID will levy a surcharge on site development to repay up to $15 million in bonds.
Councilman John Hancock, however, expressed concerns over the City Development Corporation of El Campo’s commitment to spend up to $3 million to extend water and sewer lines to the site – especially if those lines could only be used by the pending warehouse project.
“I don’t think we should extend any more money to it until we see a building go up,” Hancock said.
Proponents like Mayor Randy Collins and Mayor Pro-tem Philip Miller say the water line extension would open the land east of U.S. 59 for economic development.
“Once they bust under the freeway, it will open it up for a whole lot of projects,” Miller said.
The current plans call for a sewer lift station and sewer line to service only the park with oversized water lines which could be tapped into for other development.
Councilman David Hodges expressed concerns over the continued delays to the rail project. “We’re throwing a lot of money into it with extension, extension,” he said.
The mayor, however, said, “We’re putting a line out there and it will open it up for other big things, for economic development.”
Spending CDC funds to build water and sewer lines, Hodges said, should be for more than just the one project. “If it’s not just for the rail park, I’m fine with it.”
Hancock agreed. “They (the lines the CDC will pay for) could be utilities to nowhere ... This has been a bait and switch deal from the start. I want to see it happen, but I think it’s scary the way we’re going about it.”
Council approved the repayment agreement with the CDC in a 5-2 vote with Hancock and Hodges against.
To lay the lines, the city will pull the funding which will be repaid by the CDC.
Councilman Hancock pointed out there is no “clawback” in the agreement, however, saying if the project fails, “We don’t get any money back.”