Mineral Wells Index, Mineral Wells, TX

April 4, 2014

Mayor sees Baker hopes as ‘last hoorah’


Mineral Wells Index

— By TYLER MASK



Thursday's Noon Lions Club hosted a special guest speaker who talked about Mineral Wells' biggest “child” – 187 feet tall – and the hope for seeing it “reborn.”

The start of the newest Baker Hotel project began nearly six years ago. Mineral Wells Mayor Mike Allen has been in office since 2008, so Allen has been along for the entire ride.

“My personal feeling is that this is the last 'hoorah,'” Allen said. “If it takes six years to get somebody to get the financing, and we do another six years, it's deteriorating too fast. So we can spend $4 million  to go with it (referring to the 4B sales tax reallocation and potential future bonds) or we can spend $6 million to tear it down and have a hole in the ground.”

Allen kicked off his presentation by speaking about the current project's history.

The vision for a new Baker began with Laird Fairchild, Allen said, who works for Hunter Chase Private Equity. The Baker caught Fairchild's eye on his way through town, headed towards a hunting lease. Fairchild saw something in the Baker.

Soon after, Chad Patton, one of Fairchild's friends who works for Merrill Lynch, hopped on board.

Once the buzz began around town, Allen and others met with the Baker's owner and took him through the 14-story giant to show him just how much the Baker had deteriorated. Two months later, the city struck a deal with the owner that they would be the sole agent representing the Baker. And the rest is history.

The Baker Restoration Team is now complete, all the finances are in place, but one thing remains: 4B Sales Tax reallocation.

The 4B Sales Tax is a reallocation of one-eighth of a cent of sales tax dollars, Allen said, not a bond or an increase in taxes. Each eighth of a cent would be put into an economic development fund, which would turn into nearly $300,000 per year that wouldn't go into the general fund.

“[Mineral Wells City Manager] Lance [Howerton] and I have said, 'We can absorb this,'” Allen said. “Plus our sales taxes are already growing.”

Last year, Mineral Wells had nearly $250 million in taxable sales, Allen said. He projected if Mineral Wells accrued $275 million per year in sales, it would levy the $300,000. Allen believes this will happen in time.

If the referendum passes, Mineral Wells City Council will assign an Economic Development Corporation to make decisions on how the money is spent according to the law, Allen said. The council will ultimately approve any expenditures.

“The general fund is not obligated to pay the bonds,” Allen said. “Only 4B money is obligated to pay the bonds.”

This will also be the last resource the restoration team will draw from, Allen said, which could lead to better rates on bonds over time as the reallocated funds have time to build.

April 28 marks the beginning of early voting, with May 10 being the official day to cast ballots on the 4B tax issue.

“For years, I have said – from my perspective – the Baker Hotel is an anchor holding us to the past,” Allen said. “If we can do this project, she [will] become a great liner leading us to the future.”