(Source: Lisa Trow The Huntsville Item, Texas (MCT) — A consultant with 24 years’ experience in developing university research parks gave the Huntsville City Council on Tuesday plenty of details to use in fleshing out the dream of a economic bonanza for the community.
But the answer to a simple question appeared to elude proponents who came to city hall to make a presentation about the $200 million, 160-acre research park to the elected officials who would get the ball rolling with extension of basic services.
“If the city does not get a grant to pay for less than half the $2.1 million it will cost to extend water and sewer services to the proposed research park, who will foot the bill?”
This is at least the second time that Ward 3 council member Ronald Allen posed the question in open session and first time he has been able to pose it publicly to SHSU, developers and their consultant.
“We have the land; we don’t have any money,” said Brian D’Agostino, representing the owners of 60 acres of the site at Ellisor Road and Highway 19, situated within the city’s extra territorial jurisdiction.
“I’m trying to figure that out — who has the money?” Allen said. “Maybe SHSU should explain. If we don’t get the grant, what are we going to do?”
Citizens who attended the meeting also raised questions about the cost of providing services to the site and the cost of annexing the research park site — a proposal council agreed to consider at last week’s regular session.
“What is the real cost of annexation?” said Katie Newman, a former SHSU student who ran unsuccessfully for council last year. “How are the people who already live here going to get anything back on their money?…Why isn’t the university paying for anything?”
Following presentations by architect Ken Tipton of the Baton Rouge-based Tipton and Associates and research park incubation expert Charles D’Agostino, citizen Charles Smither Jr. suggested partners work together to alleviate some of the initial burden on Huntsville taxpayers. Such a partnership might also buy some goodwill among citizens who are jaded about past utility extensions to areas that never saw to fruition the development that was expected, he said.
“In our history, our choices have not always been very good about where we extended utilities,” Smither said. Cost-sharing among partners “would take a great deal of the burden off taxpayers.”
Mayor Mac Woodward, while encouraging an open process that allows citizens the information they wanted about the research park, also reminded council members that they needed to prepare to make tough choices about issues of annexation and extension of city services.
“We’ll have to look at the return (on investment) and see how this affects us,” Woodward said. “(Then) we’ll have make a decision.”
Charles D’Agostino, president of Developmental Consulting, offered council layers of information about how university research parks in other communities brought sustainable economic development through:
• Working as partner with private economic development on the site;
• “Incubating” development of goods and services that could be marketed by a burgeoning entrepreneurial culture on campus;
• Spurring growth of SHSU in students, faculty and programs;
• Adding hundreds of well-paying jobs and associated payroll; and
• Retaining graduating researchers and entrepreneurs and attracting new ones who will start up new businesses in Huntsville.
A hotel and conference center that would adjoin the research park would bring in hundreds of visitors to Huntsville through attendance at conventions and SHSU Bearkat sporting events, he said.
City tourism officials and council members have noted that Huntsville does not have a hotel large enough to house visiting NCAA teams who play the Bearkats so that those teams must stay at Bryan-College Station hotels.
A similar research park at Louisiana State University has created more than 2,308 jobs at the research park since it opened in 1988 with $13.8 million in annual payroll, D’Agostino said. The private sector portion of the park attracted companies such as EA Sports video game developers — adding more than 600 jobs with a $32 million payroll and more than $70 million in “purchase power.”
SHSU’s park would have 12 acres devoted to retail, mixed-use and hotels; 55 acres to corporate and research and development companies; 48 acres to SHSU research, heavily weighted toward criminal justice and forensics, and five acres to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Another 10 acres would be open. Construction at the site would exceed $200 million.
“You can imagine the economic spin-off from a $200 million construction job,” D’Agostino said.
The increased tax revenue from development could be reinvested into the city for use in improving and expanding city programs and services, he said.
The research park also would give SHSU the room it desperately needs to grow, said Al Hooten, vice president of finance and operations at the university. Many nonacademic programs would move to the research park, freeing up space on the main campus for students. Without the research park, SHSU might have to cap enrollment as has the University of Houston and Texas AandM.
“SHSU is land locked….Unless we can create more space on the main campus, we’ll have to cap enrollment,” Hooten told council. Something must be done to accommodate a student population expected to hit 22,000 to 25,000 in the near future.
“It’s coming very quickly, folks,” Hooten said.
For more information about the potential benefits of the research park, contact D’Agostino by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
©2012 The Huntsville Item (Huntsville, Texas)
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