By TYLER MASK
To say that Tuesday night’s Mineral Wells City Council meeting was packed would be an understatement – it was standing room only 15 minutes before commencement. From prominent people such as past Mineral Wells Mayor Clarence Holliman and Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ryan Roach to local business owners and families with their children, persons from nearly all demographics showed up to hear about the Baker Hotel renovation project.
Multiple attempts at reviving the Baker have occurred since its closing in 1963. Although these attempts were well intended, they have only added to the general public’s disheartenment towards ever seeing the lights come back on at the center of “main and main;” however, a new dawn is breaking on the mighty 14-story building, and hopes are this time will be different.
“This has been an effort amongst this entire development team, the mayor, the economic development team, Richard Ball and Steve Butcher and their folks as well as your City Manager Lance Howerton,” Chad Patton said. “We have been working diligently over the last six years to put the financing in place for this project, and I have to tell you, it’s been an effort of love on our behalf. We’ve been working on this project really with no compensation, a lot of time, energy and effort out of our pockets to try and make this project a reality. Let me just paraphrase that by saying why it’s taken so long.
“This project costs about $56 million dollars to complete – that’s an all-in-cost – from getting rid of all the asbestos and lead to putting in all the furnishings and bedrooms and meeting spaces – everything that you would need for the hotel. But in the end, once it’s up and running and operating as a four-star destination hotel – bringing it back to its historical glory – it’s really gonna have a valuation of about $30 to $35 million dollars. So traditional financing just doesn’t make sense. It’s kinda hard for a bank to want to finance that. So that’s what’s taken us these six years to get to the place where we are now. And the capital on that is complex, one of the pieces – what we believe to be one of the final pieces of financing – is really the use of these 4B dollars.”
This multi-million dollar project, spearheaded by Southlake businessman Laird Fairchild, has found nearly all the sources for funding, but there is still a ways to go. Enter the City of Mineral Wells and 4B Economic Development Sales Tax.
The plan is to establish a “Development Corporation” that can issue a $4 million bond, which the city will pay off over a period of time with a portion of sales tax revenue. The beauty behind this plan is that it won’t cost Mineral Wells citizens an extra cent, it is simply a reallocation of tax dollars.
“The 4B request is, I believe, a true asset to your town,” Fairchild said. “What it is, is a request to allocate certain sales dollars into an Economic Development Corporation that’s assigned, who then determines where those funds are spent.”
The projected funds raised by the 4B will be around $300,000 per year.
“[The] Economic Development Corporation will only authorize funds to us as they are needed at the hotel,” Fairchild said. “So, if for some reason – [not that] there is anything that would give me doubt – you are to approve this 4B, we have problems with the rest of the capitol stack – which I don’t believe we will – you still have an Economic Development Corporation and a fund that can be used for other projects that will help spur activity in this town.”
Howerton expounded on this notion by adding that a portion of sales tax would be reallocated to the 4B.
“It’s not an increase in the sales tax, it’s a reallocation of what we are proposing at this point of an eighth of a cent of our sales tax that would then be dedicated to this 4B Economic Development sales tax,” Howerton said. “Basically what the Baker group is asking is to have the 4B sales tax reallocation that would put us in a position at some point in the near future, hopefully this calendar year as Chad mentioned, to be in a position to issue bonds – this $4 million – to support the project. So the proposition that will potentially be on the ballet in May does not authorize the issuance of bonds – let’s make that very clear – but what it does, it would approve this reallocation of our existing sales tax... dedicated to an economic development fund. Any bonds that might be issued at a later time would be paid off by the revenues coming into the city through this 4B sales tax.”
Howerton went on to say that the action, if passed at the ballet, can be undone.
If all goes according to plan, Patton believes all the funding will be in place by 2014 and a fully restored Baker could be a reality by 2017.
One of the Baker restoration team members, Jeff Trigger, recalled his past experiences in restoring historic hotels and the consequential impact it’s had on their respective communities. The Adolphus in Dallas, the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek, the Driskill Hotel in Austin, the Settles Hotel in Big Spring and the Saint Anthony in San Antonio are just a few to name.
“Just like everybody else’s story, you drive by here, and I did that in 1984, and you look and say, ‘Oh my gosh, somebody needs to do something with that beautiful hotel,’” Trigger said. “Then I got a call from Laird, however many years later.
“In Big Spring, you have 20,000 folks. When you think about the Baker, you think about the Settles.
“When I first got the phone call from Brent to join him on the project in Big Spring, what I said is that you can’t think of the hotel as a hotel, you have to think of it as multiple businesses, and maybe y’all think about the Baker that way now; but those of you that don’t think about it as a great place to go to dinner, that don’t think about it as a neat coffee shop, that don’t think about it as a place for a wedding, that don’t think about it as a place to have your nails done, that don’t think about it as a place to maybe pick up a few sundries and gifts at the retail, or [don’t] think about it as a membership spa, you’re missing the big picture.”
Trigger recalls that Big Spring’s situation was very similar to Mineral Wells in the fact that it didn’t have any highly formal outlets people could enjoy. When the Settles was finally complete, every generation took advantage of the city’s restored asset. The most vivid memory Trigger has is the first prom held in the Settles.
“It takes me a little bit to tear up,” Trigger said. “But when I attended the first prom that the city had after our restoration, it was tough to keep a dry eye.
“It was grandmothers, mothers, daughters and sisters all coming there to come back to a prom at the Settles. It was a generational prom. It started at 8 in the morning with people taking pictures... all the way into the wee hours when I headed out of town.”
To add to the excitement in Big Spring, property values surrounding the Settles went up and business from out of town has grown as well Trigger said.
In other business, City Council approved:
• Award of bid for demolition of condemned structures.
• Ordinances adopting updated building codes enforced by the City of Mineral Wells and fee schedules associated thereto.
• An ordinance adopting the 2006 Edition of the International Property Maintenance Code as amended.
• Racial profiling report from the Mineral Wells Police Department.