A special joint meeting of The Woodlands Township board of directors and The Woodlands Township Economic Development Zone was called to discuss the project, which would be developed in two phases if The Woodlands Mall moves forward with the plan, officials said.
The township’s actions consisted of approving an amendment to the preliminary project and financing plans of the EDZ as well as approving an economic development agreement between the two township bodies and the mall. As part of that agreement, 1% of sales tax and 1% of hotel occupancy tax revenues generated within the EDZ by the new project would be allocated to reimburse the mall for the cost of the parking garage up to $80 million over a 30-year period, according to information at the meeting.
The board voted 5-1 to approve both measures by both entities, with Director Ann Snyder voting against the measures and Chair Gordy Bunch abstaining because of a conflict of interest. He noted that his business, The Woodlands Financial Group Insurance, is a tenant at the mall.
According to information shared at the meeting, the township was contacted by The Woodlands Mall Associates six months ago, and the board discussed the proposal on three occasions in executive session.
The proposal is for improvements south of the Macy’s at the mall, including an open-air, mixed-use commercial center with no less than 80,000 square feet of new retail space; a full-service hotel with 200 or more rooms and convention space; a select-service hotel with 125 or more rooms; a multilevel parking garage with at least 1,200 spots and related surface parking, according to information presented at the meeting.
However, the introduction of the item in the last days of the current board’s terms before four new members are sworn in Nov. 30 spurred rebukes from several residents who attended the meeting.
Among those present at the meeting were the four newly elected board of directors members—Brad Bailey, Linda Nelson, Richard Franks and Kyle Watson.
“I don’t believe there has been any transparency with regard to this issue,” Watson said during the public comment session at the beginning of the meeting. “None of us know anything about this. To rush this because many of you are going off the board ... is a disservice to the residents.”
Nelda Blair, a founding board member of The Woodlands Township, also spoke critically during the public hearing for the amendment.
“This is rushed, and it is not proper for an outgoing board to making such a major decision,” Blair said.
Bailey was also critical in his assessment of the action.
“This is not an issue with the mall ... my main issue ... is the process the board has followed. This is a sneaky business deal without any public awareness or public input,” Bailey said.
During her description of the project, Monique Sharp, president and CEO of The Woodlands Township, said because multiple entities are involved in the project, including The Woodlands Mall, the township was not able to disclose details about the proposal until it was approved by all parties.
Sharp emphasized that it is a potential economic development project, and the next step will be at the mall’s discretion.
“This is the first step or only one step in the entire process as far as the mall developer is concerned,” she said.
Phase 1 of the proposed project will include at least 45,000 square feet of new retail space, at least one of the hotels and a parking facility, according to information at the meeting.
Phase 2 will include at least 35,000 square feet of new retail space, the second of the hotels and additional parking capacity.
The EDZ is a political subdivision with its own governing board separate from the township, which overlaps the boundaries of The Woodlands Township and assesses a 1% sales tax within its boundaries. Revenue from that sales tax is used for the “promotion and stimulation of business, commercial and economic activity In the township and the state,” according to information at the meeting.
Other current EDZ projects include a $7.5 million project to enhance public areas of the mall, through 2034; $10.6 million for Market Street public enhancements, through 2035; and a completed $1.35 million project to expand Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. However, an EDZ project has not been initiated in several years, officials said.
The language of the resolution and amendment were not available on the township website the night of the meeting, but township officials said they would be posted online the following day. The items were available on the township website on Nov. 18.
Bunch said in response to several resident comments that no funding would be released to the project unless it is substantially completed.
“There is no obligation based on the construction or halfway constructed facilities,” Bunch said. “If they don’t do anything, nothing occurs.”
Snyder said in comments at the meeting she believed the project deserves more time for the public to become familiar with the details before the board voted on it.
“I think it’s important that we pause and let the community know what this is,” Snyder said. “I don’t see it in any way endangering the project. I commend you for initiating this potential of having an incredible expansion of our mall, but why not let the public know that we ... are looking at this?”
The board also discussed the tax benefit the proposed project could have under several scenarios, presenting projections on the high and low end depending on the extent to which the project is developed.
Over 30 years, at least $179.4 million in revenue could be generated from the project with $131.3 million going to the township, or $275.9 million in revenue for a larger garage and square footage, with $197.7 million going to the township.
Editor’s note: The story was updated to include links to the resolution and amendment and to add details about the projected tax revenue generated by the project.