San Marcos City Council member Maxfield Baker told a crowd gathered at City Hall that a recent economic incentive deal to bring a film production studio to town would be reconsidered.
Baker said San Marcos City Council members Saul Gonzales and Alyssa Garza, who both approved the original deal with Hill Country Studios, decided to bring the economic incentive back to council at the July 5 meeting. .
“It literally warms my heart to see people come forward on such an important issue and validate the things I was saying up there that night,” said Baker, who was the only board member to vote. against the economic incentive. “What I want to share with you is the good news. There is a brilliant provision in policy where we can reconsider the article. It can only be brought forward by council members who voted for… So, you’ve all been a part of it – writing, reaching out to your friends, reaching out to news outlets, it’s all had an impact to get us here at this moment.”
Above, San Marcos City Council member Maxfield Baker addresses a crowd of protesters outside City Hall on Tuesday.
About 200 San Marcos residents turned out Tuesday night for a protest organized by Protect Our River — a grassroots movement to protect the San Marcos River and the Edwards Aquifer recharge area.
The protest comes after the San Marcos City Council approved a Chapter 380 Economic Development Incentive Agreement with Hill Country Group, LLC, for the location of a film and video production studio within the development of La Cima.
The agreement provides incentives in the form of property and personal tax percentage refunds over five years for the construction of at least 820,000 square feet of studio space.
The studio would have 22 full-time employees with an average salary of $100,000 and up to 1,400 contract workers with an average of 1,200 on production projects with an average salary of $80,000, according to a presentation the city presented to the council on June 7.
There would be a total capital investment of $267 million and the facility would include 820,000 square feet of production stages, workshops, offices and support space. Construction would be divided into three phases and begin in April 2023.
The deal would see San Marcos collect approximately $161,000 in property taxes in 2025 after construction is complete and $11.4 million in total over a 10-year period. There would also be a property tax refund at a rate of 90% in the first year, which would reduce overtime.
Concerns have been raised regarding the location of the production studio within the Edwards Aquifer recharge area.
“The aquifer supplies more than 2 million people across the state of Texas,” said Protect Our River organizer Xandria Quichocho. “There is also no complete data that a movie studio will actually bring jobs to San Martians.”
A crowd gathered at San Marcos City Hall to protest a recent City Council decision to provide an economic incentive for a movie studio above the Edwards Aquifer recharge area. #smtx pic.twitter.com/AoOvTRhv4A
— Nick Castillo (@Nick_Castillo74) June 28, 2022
However, the city cannot prevent the development of private land, which means that the land can already be used for development due to the initial agreement it made with La Cima. In the agreement, the location where the film studio would be located was zoned for community commercial use with an impervious cover site set at 80%.
In an email shared with the Daily recordingDeputy City Manager Joe Pantalion said the movie studio will be built with less than 48% waterproof cover.
“The developer will be required to develop a water pollution abatement plan to address stormwater quality and aquifer impacts,” Pantalion wrote. “They will also be required to construct water quality and flood retention controls, protect trees and provide native landscaping as part of the development. The project will also provide 100ft construction buffers from W. Centerpoint Road and Ranch Road 12 – when they are only required to provide a 10ft buffer. It should also be noted again that, as part of the overall development, La Cima has retained large tracts of land for natural areas and parks.
“In short, while the studio project will have significant economic benefit for the citizens of San Marcos, it is also a better environmental alternative than the development that was approved in 2013 for this location,” added Pantalion.
Claudia Zapata, the Democratic candidate for Texas Congressional District 21 who attended Tuesday’s protest, told the crowd to stay engaged even if the city council did not reverse its decision.
“Although we may not be able to stop [the film studio] to happen, I’m not saying there’s no chance because I wouldn’t be here with you fighting, but we have to make sure that we constantly put pressure on our city council and on the county commissioners to demand that they respect the environment and respect us,” Zapata said. “The people who live here will make San Marcos what it is. There is no San Marcos community or culture without us.
Above, protesters hold up their signs on Tuesday.
With the economic incentive to reconsider, Baker is unsure of the reasoning behind his colleagues’ decision, but hopes to have a balanced discussion at the next city council meeting.
“We kind of recognize that this project could be built probably with or without incentive,” Baker said. “So how much do we want to focus incentive approval on demanding more environmental standards and transparency?”