SHOPS OPEN2

A Waco police officer takes down crime scene tape Wednesday morning to allow the reopening of Central Texas Marketplace shops affected by Sunday’s motorcycle gang shootout at the nearby Twin Peaks restaurant.

Staff photo— Jerry Larson

The shootout at the Twin Peaks restaurant May 17 that claimed the lives of nine bikers and placed Waco in the cross hairs of national scrutiny apparently had no impact on commerce and retail sales, according to figures released Wednesday.

Law enforcement officials ordered stores near the crime scene to close for 2 1/2 days after the deadly melee at Central Texas Marketplace, and some wondered whether the tragedy would attach a stigma to the popular shopping complex and its hometown.

But apparently commerce continued unabated in most of Waco, as the $2.7 million sales tax rebate Waco received Wednesday was 6.5 percent larger than the $2.54 million it received in July last year.

Rebates received in July reflect sales in May reported to the Texas Comptroller’s Office in June.

The new Cavender’s Boot City superstore at Central Texas Marketplace had been open about two weeks when gunshots began to pepper the shopping center at noontime on a Sunday. Assistant manager Brandon Davis said the relocation of Cavender’s from Westview Village to the marketplace had been low-key and that business was far from spectacular leading up to the events of May 17.

“What went on at Twin Peaks really kind of helped us out,” he said. “People who may not have even known that we had relocated to the other side of town were made aware that we were among the places forced to close for a couple of days.”

The unveiling of deep discounter Five Below at the marketplace also had an impact on the city’s sales tax revenue.

“We had opened on May 1, and business was really, really good,” manager Kasey Beers said. “After we were shut down due to Twin Peaks, it took a few days for business to get back to normal because shoppers didn’t quite know what to think. But then we got really busy again, as if shoppers were determined to help us get back on our feet.”

Laura Chiota, city of Waco budget manager, acknowledged she was concerned about the July rebate and whether the specter of Twin Peaks might jeopardize the city’s run of year-over-year increases.

“But Wacoans are resilient; Americans are resilient,” said Chiota. “It was like, ‘This is not going to keep me down.’ ”

She said she thinks gasoline prices, which continue to run well below those of a year ago, are contributing to the solid sales tax rebates. Taxing entities receive no rebates on gasoline sales, and customers who pay less for fuel have more disposable income.

Brad Davis, a commercial real estate specialist at Coldwell Banker Jim Stewart Realtors, said he does not think either the center or Waco has been stigmatized by the violence, but the restaurant itself is a different story.

He said the former Twin Peaks building should be torn down before another use for that section of the center is pursued.

Davis added he is not surprised that Waco’s sales tax rebate in July for May sales exceeded that of July last year.

“For one thing, Central Texas Marketplace remains a power center with a lot of great anchors,” he said. “Also, employment is good in Waco. People have money to spend. Everything seems to be pointing up right now, really cranking.”

He said customers who planned purchases at the stores between Cabela’s and Best Buy that were forcibly closed for nearly three days probably went back after they reopened. He said the sales probably were not lost, merely postponed.

Area development

Development continues on several fronts around the city, including new stores popping up at Central Texas Marketplace and new restaurants opening at the Gander Mountain-anchored site at South Valley Mills Drive and the Interstate 35 frontage road. Meanwhile, a Maddio’s Pizza Joint, Sprint store and Whataburger restaurant soon will open at Lake Air and Valley Mills drives.

So far this calendar year, Waco has received sales tax rebates totaling $20.54 million from the State Comptroller’s Office, an increase of 5.9 percent from the $19.39 million during the first seven months of last year.

The 19 cities in McLennan County that receive rebates picked up checks totaling $3.74 million in July, a 7.58 percent increase over the $3.48 million collected in July of last year, according to the comptroller’s office.

Statewide, Comptroller Glenn Hegar sent cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts a total of $609 million in July, which represents an increase of 1.2 percent compared to July 2014.

But state sales tax revenue in June was $2.2 billion, down 1.4 percent from June of last year.

“This slight decline was expected due to the slowdown in the oil and gas mining sector, and is in line with the biennial revenue estimate presented in January,” Hegar said. “Receipts from the construction, information, restaurant and services sectors continued to grow, however, which is a testament to Texas’ diverse and dynamic economy.”

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