As expected, Council dumps Downtown

The Odessa City Council voted to stop funding Downtown Odessa Tuesday night after City Manager John Beckmeyer said the city has been illegally funding the organization by using hotel occupancy taxes.

According to Beckmeyer, the city has been providing Downtown Odessa $450,000 a year for the last five years even though the rules state HOT funds can only be used for things that enhance tourism and the convention and hotel industry. While Downtown Odessa draws tens of thousands of people through events like Firecracker Fandango and the Parade of Lights, those don’t put heads in beds, he said.

Prior to voting, the council heard from longtime Odessa resident Mary Neff, Kira Boen and Kris Boen. The Boens own Homemade Wines and Kira Boen is on the Downtown Odessa board.

Neff said that for years she and her husband were forced to go to Midland for entertainment, but thanks to the revitalized Ector Theater, the Marriott Hotel and the many great events being held now, they spend much more time downtown. She also noted the city will turn 100 in three years.

“It’s a wonderful place to be and I think that we need to think seriously about what we want that to look like in three years. Is it going to be something that you’ve pulled back from, taken leadership out of, taken funding away from or is it going to be something you can move forward with to build Odessa into the city that it should be?” Neff said.

Kira Boen told the council there are many local and diverse businesses “thriving” right now and she wants to know who will continue the work that has begun downtown.

“Downtown Odessa has been the location of many investments by nonprofits and philanthropists, but this should not be seen as a substitute for a comprehensive downtown revitalization effort,” she said. “We still need some financial support to continue growing downtown. We need a multifaceted approach that addresses issues like planning and executing coordinated events.”

Kris Boen said without Downtown Odessa’s financial and moral support they never would’ve been able to open Homemade Wines.

“We were very encouraged by (their) enthusiasm for our project and their commitment to supporting local businesses like ours, their expertise and guidance were invaluable as we navigated the complexities of the grant application process,” Kris Boen said. “They helped u make connections as we were building our renovation team of architects, contractors and other community advisors.”

Beckmeyer, Mayor Javier Joven and Councilmember Mark Matta sought to dispel any idea that the City of Odessa isn’t interested in revitalizing downtown. The Odessa Development Corporation will continue to provide infrastructure and facade grants and the Parks and Recreation Department will take on the events, along with an events coordinator who will also handle events city-wide.

Prior to 2019, Beckmeyer said Downtown Odessa was Main Street Odessa and the nonprofit needs to go back to being that.

The city has $3.5 million set aside for downtown and discussions will be held with the city’s development department and the Odessa Chamber of Commerce to help keep revitalization efforts moving forward, Beckmeyer said.

Matta said that by stepping back from the nonprofit they hope to avoid future litigation.

“The last thing we want to do is to go out and have to ask for that money back. Nobody wins in that situation,” Matta said. “So that’s what we’re trying to avoid right now.”

Downtown Odessa offers events that contribute to the quality of life in Odessa and they’re events he and his family also enjoy, Matta said.

“I know this is kind of the heartbeat of the city and so in no way, shape or form or fashion are we going to stop with the revitalization efforts for downtown,” Matta said. “Especially being in my district, I’m a little biased, but I see a great and bright future for downtown.”

There was no mention of a downtown festival street Tuesday night. For the last several years, Downtown Odessa and other supporters have been working toward a downtown entertainment district.

The city council passed a $93 million certificate of obligation in August 2019 to pay for new fire stations, a police multipurpose building, an animal shelter, park improvements and the widening of Faudree Road.

Some believe $7 million of those funds were put aside for the downtown entertainment district and KDC Associates was awarded a $650,000 contract to design and oversee a festival street on Jackson Avenue with those funds.

Jackson Avenue was chosen for the site of the festival street due to its proximity to Odessa College’s downtown project.

The college built a large green space, a covered stage, two performance canopies, an entryway, a splash pad, restrooms and parking for food vendors at 4th Street and Jackson Avenue. In addition, they are building a 24,000-square-foot academic building with classrooms and conference rooms for students and entrepreneurs nearby.

After a turnover on the city council in November 2022, KDC Associates was fired.

Work session

During the council’s work session, the council members agreed to provide $2 million in contingency funds to the water treatment plant rehabilitation project.

Utilities Director Kevin Niles said 25 change orders totaling more than $1.9 million have been created over the last 18 months because of unforeseen issues and increased prices. An extra $2 million is needed to extend the contract of the engineers and to cover any other additional change orders, he said.

Niles said the project is expected to be finished in March 2025.

Joven said the council had an idea they’d be asked for the funds six months ago.

The council also agreed to an $8 monthly fee to residents for who want additional solid waste roll out carts. Residents would be allowed to have a maximum of two per household above the one already provided by the city.

In addition, the council also agreed to award Diamondback Recycling A contract. Diamondback Recycling will accept all recyclables at the Time Machine for $60,000 a year, but the city will haul the recyclables to the company’s facility.

In addition, the council also agreed to revert back to having a city marshal for Odessa Municipal Court. The court changed from having a city marshal to having a warrant officer in 1983. If approved, the city marshal would appoint one or more deputies to provide safety during court proceedings.

All of the decisions made during the work session will be formalized at the council’s next regular meeting.