[Freeport TX] City Council extended its contract with a developer to build a new marina on the Old Brazos River over the objections of a majority of residents in a standing-room-only council chambers Monday.
Opponents of the marina, which is being funded by a $6 million loan from the city to the developer, Walker Royall of Dallas, urged council to wait until after the May 7 city elections to take action. The mayor's position and two council seats are on the ballot, potentially reversing the majority in favor of the deal.
Wright Gore III, whose family owns Western Seafood and has sued the city to
keep it from condemning its land and turning it over to Royall, said council isn't respecting the wishes of its residents by renewing the contract, which was to expire in July.
Gore also said the Freeport Economic Development Corp., which recommended extending the contract, voted with three of its seven members absent and didn't take public input. "The EDC voted to renew this without any participation or questions from the audience Thursday night," Gore said. "No one was allowed to speak, no one was allowed to ask a question, no one was allowed to put any input on this."
Mayor Jim Barnett shot back at Gore. "You're just rambling here," Barnett said. "If it wasn't for you, we wouldn't even be talking about this tonight."
Council approved the one-year extension by a 4-1 vote, with Councilman Larry McDonald voting against it. Steve Upton, one of four men running to replace Barnett - who is not seeking re-election - also urged council to put off a decision. "This is an issue that can wait," Upton said. "Let the council that's going to be the council leading next year make the decisions. It needs to wait for the people to speak."
Councilman Jim Phillips, development corporation board member Lon Siddall
and Clan Cameron also are running for mayor.
City Manager Ron Bottoms said waiting doesn't make sense. "The issue at hand is the extension of the one-year agreement and why extend it now," Bottoms said. "The short reason is we have a council that's educated on the issue."
Under terms of the agreement, the economic development corporation, which is funded by the half-cent sales tax, would loan Royall $6 million to fund the marina's construction.
Bottoms said the loan would be secured by $1 million in cash, $800,000 in property and the improvements the developer makes on the site. "Before he can make any draws on that $6 million loan, he's got to spend his $1 million," Bottoms said. "Then you start spending the $6 million as the development occurs. It's not going to happen, but let's just say he walks two months into it after he's spent $2 million of the city's money. We have the money set aside, plus we have the land now to make it happen, so it's a very secured loan."
Gore said his family supports the marina, but objects to the loan and the
city's use of eminent domain to take property from one owner and give it to another private owner. A federal district court has ruled the city can take the land, but the parties are waiting on the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on a similar case.
While most of the people at Monday's meeting were against the deal, it wasn't unanimous. "I want to let you and everybody else know that Mr. Gore does not represent all of the citizens," Sandra Leavey said.
Bottoms said the marina can be the engine that revitalizes the city, leading to restaurants and hotels around the site that will create jobs and increase the city's tax base.
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