The talk around Epicenter League City, a $450 million commercial development touted as a major opportunity, has gone tepid since October when the project was announced with much fanfare.
“Everyone’s patience is wearing a little thin,” Mayor Pat Hallisey said.
The city council in October signed a predevelopment agreement with Epicenter of League City LLC for a project that could one day bring four hotels, a convention center, arenas for a hockey and a baseball team, restaurants and shops and other businesses to an area alongside Interstate 45.
City administrators said at the time they hoped to have a final agreement by the end of January.
Not only has that not happened, but the predevelopment agreement has technically lapsed and has not been renewed, Councilman Larry Millican said.
“Representatives with the group have been in contact with different individuals within the city to say they’re still working and the project is still moving forward,” Millican said.
Representatives of Epicenter of League City LLC did not respond to a request for comment about the project by deadline. But there is some evidence that progress is ongoing, despite some frustration on the part of city leaders.
The developers in late April unveiled plans for a 16-acre tract of land at the intersection of Calder Road and Link Road that will give residents a flavor of what the future holds, Epicenter of League City officials said at the time.
“Talks are still in progress,” said Linda Merritt, a spokeswoman for the development group, at the time. “But just because it’s a larger development with more elements for consideration, it’s taking longer than what everyone would have preferred. But we’re still in conversation.”
The tract is planned to be a mixed-use development featuring restaurants, retail shops and hotels, creating an idea for what the bigger Epicenter project might look like, minus the sports elements, Merritt said.
But city leaders are still feeling the frustration, even as they continue work to bring the project to fruition, Hallisey said.
“The truth is, we are trying to stimulate the market by having the convention center,” Hallisey said. “That’s the whole reason we want a full-service hotel to begin with, to service the convention center.
“But we find ourselves in a precarious situation. The word is out that we are trying to do something, and we have a neighborhood nearby asking questions. We are really clear with anyone that asks, we do not want to do anything until we have moved the ballfields.”
As part of the agreement, the developer would fund the design and construction of a new, larger sports complex for the city on the growing western side of town on about 100 acres near the Bay Colony subdivision, replacing the Chester L. Davis Sportsplex.
The current sportsplex sits on prime real estate along Interstate 45 that would one day house the new development.
The cost of doing that, however, is about $35 million and could be a stumbling block for the developers, Hallisey said.
Despite the slow progress, city administrators have taken steps to help the project along in recent months. Legislators, for instance, renewed House Bill 2445 until 2023, which the city hopes to use to provide some benefits to the project.
The bill initially went to Gov. Greg Abbott on May 30, 2017, and was approved without his signature June 15, 2017, amending Chapter 351 of the Texas Tax Code.
The bill will allow League City to pledge the state’s share of hotel occupancy taxes collected in the city to pay for tourism-related improvements, such as a convention center, entertainment-related convention center facilities or hotel infrastructure.
The council approved a change to the city’s zoning ordinances that eliminates all but one category of hotel and requires any new development to have a minimum of 250 rooms and each room must be a minimum of 375 square feet.
Some city leaders are still unconvinced the developers have the capital, or the interest, necessary to pursue the project without further help.
“The big question we get from people who pay for these things is, is the city willing to get some skin in the game,” Hallisey said. “Our answer has been that we do, we own the 50 acres and are willing to give access to sales tax.
“But what they are talking about is putting up money to do the convention center. And our answer so far is that we say we aren’t ready to do that yet.”
Epicenter of League City LLC is a newly formed company, but the company behind it, Western Spherical Developers LLC, has more than 70 years of combined experience, according to the project’s website.