There is public concern — within at least a few civically aware groups — the Hays City Commission does not understand the boost a travel plaza off Exit 157 will have on the local economy. An oft-asked question at such gatherings: Why else would there be any hesitation by commissioners to grant the economic development assistance sought by NWK Investments to build Big Creek Travel Plaza on Interstate 70?
The project appears to be a winner, at least from the general description offered by the Colby-based NWK. Along with the mixed travel plaza would be a hotel, convenience store, coffee shop and fast-food restaurant. Given the high volume of interstate traffic, such an amenity no doubt would grow the local economy.
And NWK has indicated it would need both Tax Increment Financing as well as a Community Improvement District to make the project work.
“The project requires significant infrastructure, sewer and water to be brought to our proposed location. Frankly, without those opportunities, it’s not financially feasible,” said Jim Millensifer, vice president of operations for Chance Management, which will manage 100 percent of the business for NWK.
Whether feasible implies having positive cash flow or doubling the margin on the project is unknown, but those words were used in a letter to the Hays USD 489 Board of Education. NWK is seeking letters of support from both the school board and the Ellis County Commission, which already agreed to sign one.
There are plans to make a specific request of the city commission, but it hasn’t happened yet. Therein lies the rub. Commissioners can’t approve or disapprove an application that has not been submitted. Any assumption regarding how the majority might vote is pure speculation at this point.
“I’m amazed that a developer is seeking letters of support from other governmental entities when this body has seen nothing,” Commissioner Henry Schwaller IV said at the city’s last work session.
The procedural steps NWK — or any other developer — needs to follow are articulated clearly in the city’s economic development policy. A petition for a CID, for example, requires the entity to file an application for economic incentives, a supplemental questionnaire, a site plan, a business plan and anything else the city needs to adequately evaluate the proposal. A tax clearance letter from the state Department of Revenue is required, as are details of the financing in order to prove the applicant has at least 25 percent skin in the game. A cost-benefit analysis is needed to show the community will have net gains.
Sound like a lot of hoops to jump through? Perhaps. We would argue there had better be a lot of hoops if public tax dollars are involved. We believe the City of Hays agrees, as it takes the time to develop the requirements.
The city would not be doing its fiduciary responsibility if it did anything but enforce these regulations. And staff — let alone commissioners — have not seen any of the required paperwork. Because it has yet to be submitted.
Until that time, Big Creek Travel Plaza is merely a concept. An intriguing one, to be sure. And, more than likely, a future significant sales tax generator for the city.
It is premature to think Hays commissioners somehow are anti-business. Actually, they are displaying keen business skills to this point by not debating a non-existent application. We look forward, as do the commissioners, to scrutinizing the details of the operation.
CIDs and other forms of assistance are not entitlements handed out for the asking. Let’s take this one step at a time.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry
Editorial by Patrick Lowry