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Plans for a $25 million Conference Center and a $37.5 million
 Hotel in College Station, Texas Come to a Standstill

By April Avison, The Eagle, Bryan, TexasMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Dec. 13, 2007 - College Station's attempts to assemble Northgate property for a hotel-convention center have come to a standstill -- and a potential partnership with Texas A&M University has dissolved, city officials said Wednesday.

Deputy City Manager Terry Childers said the College Station City Council will make a decision early next year, based on those facts, about whether it wants to continue pursuing a hotel-convention center in Northgate or elsewhere.

In the meantime, Texas A&M officials are working independently to develop a hotel-convention center. If that happens, the College Station City Council would no longer have much of a decision to make, Childers said, explaining that the community probably couldn't support two similar facilities.

Discussion about the project was held during a Wednesday meeting of the Northgate tax increment finance advisory board. The Northgate TIF was set up last year as a mechanism to fund a hotel-convention center. Projects within such a zone can be financed by issuing debt which is then repaid using a portion of property taxes on new development.

City officials talked earlier this year about issuing $25 million in debt to build a conference center in Northgate between Nagle Street and College Avenue. A developer would pay for a $37.5 million hotel, according to preliminary plans.

The deputy city manager told advisory board members Wednesday that College Station officials put forth a strong effort to reach a development agreement, but the pieces haven't fallen into place.

"I wish we could say we've got the project site, but we're at a point in which we need to have some conversations with the council about whether they're going to direct us to continue with this," he said. "We have spent the last year making an effort to put together enough dirt to do the project, but it has not happened, bottom line.

"It has not been because we have not spent a substantial amount of time and used all our abilities to forge a relationship that would be in the best interest of the citizens," Childers added. "We have just not been able to do a project that makes sense."

And negotiations to partner with Texas A&M on a hotel-convention center "have come to an end," Childers told the TIF board.

"We haven't had a falling out," he said after the meeting. "Sometimes you come to the table and your interests diverge."

Developer Dale O'Reilly, a member of the TIF advisory board, said he was sorry to hear that the deal isn't coming together in Northgate.

"I think that's the best place for it to happen," he said. "But it is a challenge to accumulate the land."

Negotiations

Talks with at least three developers have fallen through since the concept was endorsed by College Station voters more than a decade ago.

The project originally was planned for the Wolf Pen Creek district. City officials later pursued a partnership with Bryan businessman Don Adam to build a facility in the "30-60 corridor" between Harvey Road and University Drive. Adam backed out of the project in 2003.

Two years later, the City Council announced plans to work with San Antonio developer Drake Leddy to build the facility on a 4-acre tract on Church Avenue owned by local property manager Jack Culpepper.

Earlier this year, College Station City Manager Glenn Brown said the project was still a possibility, adding that officials were working to finalize a location and determine development partners.

Four sites were considered at that time, including the Culpepper site and an A&M-owned tract on University Drive. The other sites were not disclosed.

The primary challenge in putting the deal together is assembling a site large enough to accommodate a hotel-convention center and surrounding parking area, Childers said Wednesday.

"I hesitate to get into a forensic examination of failed attempts on this," he said. "The common denominator is that we haven't ever owned the land. We've had to make some arrangement with someone else."

A Gameday Centers condominium also was planned within the Northgate TIF zone, at the corner of First Street and Church Avenue. Two developers withdrew from the project earlier this year, and College Station officials have said the high-rise condo is no longer a possibility in the near future.

City support

Just because a hotel-convention center may not happen in Northgate doesn't mean it won't happen at all, Childers said Wednesday. If Texas A&M officials can finalize the project on their own, city leaders would be supportive, he said.

"This is a community asset we've got to reckon with," Childers said. "We've told [A&M officials] over and over again that we're going to support you and this is a good thing for the community."

The city still stands to benefit even if it doesn't own the facility, officials have said. Studies commissioned by College Station have shown that a hotel-convention center won't likely generate significant revenues but could attract $150 million worth of spinoff in the surrounding area.

Representatives of more than 75 groups have said they would book a conference in College Station once a facility opens.

Scott Williams, executive director of real estate development for Texas A&M, said university officials have for several months been planning a mixed-use project at University Drive and College Avenue "that could include a hotel-convention center." About 88 acres in the area is owned by the university.

"I'm not sure we're ready to say anything to the public right now," Williams said Wednesday. "We probably will be able to say something after the first of the year.

--April Avison's e-mail address is april.avison@theeagle.com.

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To see more of The Eagle or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.theeagle.com/.

Copyright (c) 2007, The Eagle, Bryan, Texas

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