There has been a lot of controversy recently about legislation in Austin concerning the redevelopment of HemisFair Park. Apparently, a private developer, Zachry Corp., wants to build a big hotel there, while the government developer, State Rep. Mike Villarreal, wants to build offices and apartments there.
As with most controversies, the framing of the issue can be critical. When I first read about this controversy in the Express-News, I was informed that Villarreal wanted 80% of the development to go to San Antonio’s residents and 20% to tourists. This allocation of the parkland confused me because I thought HemisFair Park was for tourists, not San Antonio residents.
An editorial in today’s Express-News, however, removed that confusion by explaining that the Villarreal allocation applies to building construction on the park land – i.e., hotels vs. offices/apartments.
Of course, the obvious threshold question is why are we constructing buildings on park land, but we are apparently already past that question and are now focused on what kind of buildings should be constructed.
From my perspective, characterizing offices and apartments as benefits to the residents of San Antonio is totally misleading. Obviously, the vast majority of us will never set foot in those buildings. By contrast, we are more likely to take advantage of a hotel, with its restaurants and meeting rooms.
Restaurants and meeting rooms are apparently the crux of the current controversy. Zachry wanted restaurants and meeting rooms in the hotel to count as part of the 80% instead of the 20%. Villarreal insists that restaurants and meeting rooms count as part of the 20% even though this could prove to be a poison pill for any future hotel construction there.
The bigger point is that Mayor Castro and his Decade of Downtown want to starve the lifeblood of downtown – tourism – and subsidize the part of downtown that they prefer – offices and apartments.
What’s that line from Ronald Reagan about government?
- If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.
The downtown crowd often complains about hotels driving up the cost of land downtown. Well, that’s the way capitalism works – i.e., land is applied to its most valuable use. San Antonio’s public servants need to encourage progress that makes economic sense, not obstruct it.