By NICK SCHWIEN
Perhaps Mayor Henry Schwaller IV summed up the city of Hays' concern with his brief question.
"Matt, you're a young fellow," Schwaller said to Matthew Gough, the attorney representing DP Management, owners of The Mall. "You've heard the phrase, 'Fool me once,' haven't you?"
With that, Schwaller was reiterating his point about the people of Hays being promised one thing and then being delivered another.
The focus at Thursday's Hays City Commission work session was on the potential 1-percent sales tax increase for a community-improvement district to enhance The Mall on Vine Street in Hays. Commissioners stopped short of endorsing the project as presented.
While Schwaller and the rest of the Hays City Commission know Gough isn't associated with the development district responsible for bringing Home Depot to the city, the commissioners were well aware of what asking shoppers to spend an elevated tax rate at businesses might mean with the broken promises of more businesses in tow during Thursday night's work session at city hall.
"When the Home Depot project was built, we were promised a lot of other things that were not included in the agreement -- just like this," Schwaller said. "They never materialized. ... The conversations I'm having face-to-face and on telephone calls, this is the most controversial issue I've dealt with since 1999."
Developers of The Mall are proposing the 1-percent sales tax increase to businesses on the property to help renovate the decaying facility, parking lot and attract new businesses.
"It's not your fault," Commissioner Ron Mellick said to Gough. "It's just that you're coming after Home Depot."
Gough said the CID the property is seeking doesn't mean new businesses will come, but renovations will help attract potential clients.
"Just so there's no confusion about the promises, this agreement sets forth the promises to make improvements," he said. "You have to agree that if we make those improvements, The Mall stands a lot better chance of attracting the types of tenants you want."
"I think that's questionable in itself, and you can ask Aaron, who's been working on these matters for years," Schwaller said of Ellis County Coalition for Economic Development Director Aaron White. "We've been trying to attract other retailers to even build standalone facilities for years. Given the current economic environment, although it's improved, most national chains prefer urban areas to develop smaller stores, not in rural areas. So, no, I disagree with you."
Schwaller said the owner has had a tough time attracting other businesses at other locations, through the online research he's done.
The CID would help mall owners raise $3.1 million for improvements and marketing. Money would be used to improve lighting, flooring and other miscellaneous items in the facility.
It also would help with demolition of the former Montana Mike's building, as well as the now defunct bank drive-through.
The commissioners agreed new businesses would improve shopping and increase tax revenue, but none were willing to sign off on the developmental agreement as presented without changes.
That included a shortened timeframe for the first two phases of renovations by the end of 2016.
"We have to answer to 20,000 people out there who are going to be observing this," Commissioner Eber Phelps said. "They are going to want immediate results. We're going to try to get realistic results."
"The whole objective is to take it and make an opportunity," Gough said when asked about outlet buildings. "And to try to capitalize on the opportunity as soon as possible."
Gough will take the changes back to the mall owners to see what their thoughts are, or if they have a counter offer. Another work session might be needed to hammer out more details before final consideration of the CID by the commission, Gough said.
In other business:
* Nathan Marcucci was introduced to the commission as the new airport manager.
He was hired earlier this week after a national search. Marcucci served as airport operations supervisor for the Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City, Mich.
"I'd like to increase air service out of Hays," he said. "And I think that's a very doable thing. I know SkyWest is a very good airline, and I've had good experience with them in Traverse City. It's one, for the most part, that's been very reliable."
* John Braun, assistant director of public works, gave the commission an overview of rehabilitation of the crosswind runway at the airport.
The Federal Aviation Administration has listed the runway as a priority to replace the failing landing strip.
"I, personally, am surprised we've had to do this amount of maintenance on the runway at this point," Braun said. "And FAA is concerned about this as well."
The larger north-south runway supports the commercial air travel of SkyWest, while the crosswind runway -- constructed in 2003 -- supports smaller planes.
The total cost for rehabilitation would be $763,400, with the city's portion totaling $76,340. FAA would fund the remaining $687,060.
The city's share of the project would come from the Airport Improvement Fund, which has approximately $991,000 left as part of allocation money from the last time the airport reached 10,000 boardings in a single year. Then, the airport was allocated $1 million for the boarding goal.