Waco officials are working to keep secret the identity of developers the city council has offered up to $5 million in tax incentives for an entertainment complex at the northeast corner of Interstate 35 and Highway 6.
The city has declined to turn over records that could offer more insight into who is behind 35-06 LLC, as the developer is identified in already public documents, and it is seeking an opinion from the state Office of the Attorney General on whether it has to comply with a Tribune-Herald request for the records.
The city is arguing it can withhold the information based on exceptions to the Texas Public Information Act that government entities commonly claim when dealing with private businesses, said Eric Wong, a volunteer attorney with the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.
It is generally difficult to look in from outside and judge the merits of exceptions a public entity is claiming, Wong said.
“We’re behind the eight ball because we don’t actually get to see what they’re saying is privileged,” he said. “So we’re always, when we’re writing responses, trying to remind the AG to keep a narrow scope on these exceptions to the extent they don’t apply.”
State records show 35-06 LLC was formed in 2013 and list Eric Wieser as manager. The address listed for Wieser appears to be for a home in Highland Park, an affluent town surrounded by Dallas.
Wieser, who did not return a request for comment, received a letter from the city asking if he would raise legal objections to the Tribune-Herald’s records request.
In its response to the open records request, the city included zoning request documents submitted to the city in 2016. The applicant for 35-06 LLC is listed as Gordon Robinson, a local developer. Robinson also did not return requests for comment.
The next move the city expects from the entertainment complex developer is an announcement of its lead tenant, likely in about a month, Assistant City Manager Bradley Ford said. The complex is slated to include a bowling alley, a movie theater with at least eight screens and laser tag, with other retail and restaurant uses. Some of those elements are required to qualify for the tax deal the city council approved in February.
The estimated $25 million development, covering 32 acres of a 352-acre site, is expected to generate $28 million in taxable revenue annually, according to city documents. That would bring $420,000 in sales tax revenue for the city, with half going back to the developers for 10 years, up to a $5 million cap.
If projections hold, developers would get about $2.14 million over the 10-year deal, the same as the city. The money going back to the developer would cover infrastructure needs that would also facilitate new construction on more of the 352-acre area.
City officials have also said they are considering creating a tax increment financing zone for the project, the type of arrangement that has provided public subsidies for many downtown business developments in recent years.
“(The agreement) just said they have to deliver a family entertainment of this size with these components,” Ford said. “It can be any of the major operators, as long as they meet those thresholds. I know the developer and (Coldwell Banker Commercial real estate agent Bland Cromwell) are certainly working on getting to a point where they can announce who that is. And the agreement has construction timelines that are pretty aggressive, so they do need to move ahead.”
Cromwell, who has worked with Robinson on other local projects, also declined to identify the developers behind the entertainment complex.
The deal and the idea of a new TIF zone have faced scrutiny from former Mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr. The city has worked for years toward a stated goal of reigning in sprawl, and the deal for the entertainment complex would encourage development of a greenfield site on the southern edge of city limits, Duncan has previously said.