Potential Midtown TIRZ talks on expansion continue

Dec. 23, 2014West University Examiner

Scanlan Hall at the University of St. Thomas was filled nearly to capacity on Dec. 15, as Montrose and Museum District area residents sought answers on a potential expansion of TIRZ #2, known as the Midtown TIRZ.

District C council member Ellen R. Cohen led a panel discussion that included city council at-large member, David Robinson, Barron Wallace from the Midtown TIRZ, and Andy Icken, the Chief Development Officer with the City of Houston.

Residents expressed concern over a potential expansion of the Midtown TIRZ that would essentially annex the Museum District and parts of Montrose into the TIRZ.

There are currently 25 Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones (TIRZ) in Houston. The zones are created by city council to facilitate investment in regions where there is blight, deterioration or defective or inadequate infrastructure such as sidewalks and street layout.

Each TIRZ has a board comprised of members that are appointed by the city, a state senator, a state representative, HISD and Harris County. Appointees are approved by city council and should represent the makeup of the community represented.

Once a TIRZ is formed, projects are identified and the TIRZ drafts a proposal for each project. These are then taken to city council for approval.

When the TIRZ is formed, a base year tax level is set. As the area’s tax value increases over time, the zone recieves the incremental tax raises to fund the projects that were identified and approved by city council.

According to Icken, there’s approximately a $13 million tax increment per year in the Midtown TIRZ. If the Museum District/Montrose area formed their own TIRZ, their tax increment would be approximately $100,000 the first year.

One reason behind the idea to expand the existing Midtown TIRZ is to leverage the $13 million to make improvements across both areas.

Panel members pointed out that residents of all three areas share roads, facilities and a need for parking and infrastructure improvement.

During the question and answer session, architect Devin Robinson spoke about working with clients who want to repair sidewalks and city right-of-ways to improve accessibility to their businesses. He argued if there was a TIRZ plan, his clients would be able to offset the costs of these projects and it could spur more investment in infrastructure improvement in the area.

Several residents expressed concern over transparency in how the money is spent, and tax dollars leaving Montrose in favor of Midtown. There was uncertainty about whether another government entity was needed, when there’s already a city council in place to address infrastructure issues.

Council member Cohen assured residents no action would be taken until more discussion was held.

Meetings with neighborhood leadership will be held in January. Discussion is expected to continue through February, according to Icken’s timeline.

Council member Cohen will keep residents posted through her email list. To join the list, send an email to districtc@houstontx.gov.