City mulls downtown plansConstruction looms for hotel and conference center

As city officials prepare for construction to begin on the $77 million downtown hotel and conference center in the coming weeks, they are also planning ways to lure other development to the area surrounding the site.

Already, utility crews are working downtown ahead of the projected April 18 start of construction on the hotel and conference center in the area of Fifth Street and Texas Avenue. Other work ahead includes demolishing some city-owned buildings, attempts to lure other development, awarding more incentive grants and trying to convince other taxing entities to approve a downtown economic development zone.

Demolition is scheduled to begin the coming weeks of at least one city-owned building, the dilapidated former J.C Penney building at 500 N. Grant Ave.

Crews will also demolish the Ector County Abstract and Title Company at 300 E. Sixth St., once the business moves. The company is moving to a new building on Seventh Street.

In the meantime, the City Council is considering awarding a $49,000 contract to retail analytics firm, The Retail Coach, to recruit businesses to Downtown Odessa and other parts of the city.

The City Council is also considering requesting proposals from developers for the J.C. Penney building and three other city-owned properties: the former Odessa Home Furniture building on Grant Avenue, the Scott Theater and the Odessa American building on Fourth Street the city purchased in September.

“We have to do something,” City Manager Richard Morton said. “We have to let the world know we own these properties, and we want something to build there.”

Morton and District 3 Councilwoman Barbara Graff said Tuesday at least one developer said they are interested in building multi-family housing on a city property near the hotel. The city officials did not identify the developer.

Council members on Tuesday also weighed awarding a trio of incentive grants to downtown businesses.

The ODC already approved incentive grants this month that await ratification by the City Council: A $20,000 façade grant and a $22,300 infrastructure grant to Eric Prado, who owns Rooster’s Rolling Diner at 615 N. Sam Houston Ave.; A $30,000 façade grant and a $38,104 infrastructure grant to attorney Rahul Malhotra for his law office at 319 N. Grant Ave.; and a $30,000 façade grant to Kristin Noland of Our Little Texans Learning Center at 815 N. Grant Ave.

In recent weeks, city officials have also began pitching an economic development zone for Downtown Odessa to representatives of other local governmental entities including the school district and Ector County.

In a TIRZ, property tax revenues are frozen at a base level. Then, as property values rise and more development happens, revenues collected above that base level are channeled back into the zone for further development such as investments in public works and capital improvements. Among the goals is increased private development.

“I think everyone has a desire to bring as many improvements to downtown as we can,” said Assistant City Manager Michael Marrero, who has overseen city planning for the TIRZ.

To glean the most revenue for the TIRZ pot, other taxing entities would need to vote to approve the economic development zone. And none have done so yet.

But Morton said he hoped to seek votes from other local government officials to approve a TIRZ as soon as April, establishing the development zone before downtown building starts.

 County Judge Ron Eckert said Tuesday he was open to the idea as he learns more about how a TIRZ program works. Eckert and city officials say the plan is to pitch the program to the full Ector County Commissioner’s Court in the coming weeks.

The judge said he supports the city’s redevelopment plans for downtown.

“I do think it has a good positive effect on your values, which in turn helps the county long term,” Eckert said.

The judge is also considering pursuing a bond election to build a new Ector County Courthouse, four years after voters rejected such a proposal. And city officials are working with county counterparts to find ways to help bring down cost estimates that were $95 million in 2013.

Eckert said he plans to organize a town hall about a new courthouse within the next few months with an eye toward a possible bond election in November.

City officials have considered a deal with the county to use the OA property as a potential site for a courthouse.