It looks like Spec’s Liquor Store is coming to Huntsville — and without a handout from Huntsville taxpayers.
Word of this was in your local newspaper September 24-26. Not on the front page where there ain’t no more news, but back in the Classifieds section under the Legals. According to the legal notices, Spec’s Family Partners, Ltd. has filed an application for an off-premise retail liquor store to be located between Target and Wal-Mart.
That’s good news for everyone who was driving to the Spec’s in Conroe to buy alcohol, and bad news — maybe — for Huntsville’s locally owned liquor stores, who might struggle to compete with the retail giant.
But it’s an “I told you so” for those of us who argued last July against giving the developer of a strip center to include Spec’s about $350,000 in tax breaks over five years through a Chapter 380 agreement.
Dallas developer Jeff Brand told Huntsville City Council on July 15 that he couldn’t come without the 380 deal — it costs as much to build here as it does in Big D, but rents are too low here to make a profit. And he needed compensation for the site prep he would have to do to fix Huntsville’s lousy, retail-hating soil.
Council was sure as hell going to give it to him, too, even after Dave Mulligan of Lone Star Liquor and Draft Bar owner and local developer Tarek Maalouf spoke out against it. They urged council not to use tax dollars to give out-of-town retailers an advantage over the homegrown businesses that had invested in Huntsville without the help of public funds.
Council may not have been moved by their pleas, but the developer was. Or maybe Brand was scared off by a full-page ad in the Item, taken out by Voters for Lower Taxes, with a nasty cartoon of councilmen Keith Olson and Don Johnson serving up Huntsville’s Mom and Pop businesses to economic cannibals. (Did you see that cartoon? Didn’t anybody catch that Johnson had “Johnson” over his johnson?) Brand pulled his request from the council agenda before the August 5 second reading of the agreement.
Haven’t we been telling you that retailers will come without tax giveaways if they think they can make it here? So why is council so eager to write checks with your money?
Maybe, as some rumors suggest, they’re recruiting retailers, trying to stuff money in their pockets that these retailers didn’t ask for and don’t even need. Maybe a big pot of money marked for retail incentives is the driving force behind the accumulation of a $20 million surplus they’re sitting on right now.
Who would benefit from that? Retailers, of course. But also local landowners, contractors, investors, and City Councilmen who want to keep their seats on the dais. If they try to tell you you’re going to benefit, too, now you know better. It must have really pissed off Olson and Johnson, both running for re-election in November, when Brand walked away from our free money.
Even after Spec’s opens here, I’ll keep buying the vodka and kahlúa for my White Russians at Lone Star Liquor Store. But I’m glad Spec’s is coming to Huntsville. Because I love saying I told you so.