County adds another $4M to Jack Tar, tower incentives

May. 12, 2014 @ 10:01 PM

County Commissioners voted 4-0 on Monday to add another $4 million to a joint business-incentive package for a new downtown skyscraper and the proposed renovation of the former Jack Tar Motel.

The pledge matches a $4 million offer from the city, and like the city’s is due over 15 years provided the project’s Colorado-based developer, Austin Lawrence Partners, delivers on its promises.

Commissioners initially were slated to vote late last month, but delayed to give county staff more time to negotiate an agreement.

It’s been “a real collaborative effort to come up with some creative solutions to make sure we have checks and balances in place so we feel comfortable moving forward,” Commissioner Wendy Jacobs said.

Both the city and county contracts commit Austin Lawrence to spending at least $65 million on the project.

The company’s president, Greg Hills, told the City Council last month that the firm is more likely to spend “somewhere north of $85 million” by the time the buildings are finished in 2016.

Austin Lawrence plans to build the skyscraper – either a 25- or 26-story tower, depending on who’s describing it – on the southeast corner of North Corcoran and West Parrish streets.

The former Jack Tar is across Parrish on the northeast corner, and will be put back in operation as a 74-room hotel. But the company has acknowledged that for it, the main attraction of the property is its attached parking deck, which will serve both buildings.

The city’s incentive contract included conditions that mostly targeted the skyscraper, guaranteeing, among other things, that Austin Lawrence will incorporate and preserve the façades of several existing buildings on West Parrish and West Main streets.

The county’s end of the deal, by contrast, focused mostly on the Jack Tar and requires Austin Lawrence to preserve the façade of that building too.

It also binds the company to seeing to it the hotel’s full-time employees receive health-care benefits or an equivalent subsidy, and that Austin Lawrence puts at least $10 million into the renovation.

The county has the right to reduce its incentive payments if the hotel doesn’t maintain at least 60 percent room occupancy, and bars Austin Lawrence from trying to put the property into the local historic-landmark program to get an association half-price break on its property taxes.

Like the city’s offer, the county incentives are in essence a giveback of some of the expected tax revenue officials expect the combined project to generate.