A swath of undeveloped land just past Jefferson Davis Parkway offers one of the few blank slates left along the Greenway in Mid-City. It’s owner is real estate and waste management magnate Sidney Torres IV, whose property purchases along the Greenway include the land where Wrong Iron and the Edwards Communities apartments stand.Also, bonus points for getting the phrase "blank slate" in there. It's not like that is freighted with all sorts of problematic implications or anything. I don't know if Litten is deliberately trolling the readers with that or if he is just flattering Torres. It's probably the latter. Not that it matters. Either way he conveniently skips over details of the story that actually tells what Sidney is up to.
Torres has been contemplating what to do with that land. Now that Wrong Iron is open and busy, his vision for what he calls a “lifestyle center” is coming into sharper focus. In a series of recent interviews, Torres cautioned that plans for the site are extremely preliminary; he hasn’t talked to neighborhood groups about them or even vetted them to see if they conform to local zoning standards.
For one thing, nothing here addresses the fact that Sidney's development is subsidized in part by a $6 million PILOT agreement.
Late last year, Edwards Companies received a $6 million tax break from the Industrial Development Board in the form of a payment-in-lieu-of-tax program that reduces the company's property tax liability while construction continues. To obtain the break, the company agreed to offer 13 of its apartments at reduced rates to individuals who make about 30 percent of the area's median income.Thirteen "affordable" (by a tricky definition) out of nearly 400 units is hardly anything to be proud of. It certainly doesn't justify a shell game operation like PILOT which drains revenue away from public schools and services leaving poor and working class residents at a net welfare loss regardless of how "affordable" these 13 apartments might be.
What's worse, though, is Torres and his partners (Hicham Khodr and Joe Jaeger are also invested) actually had to have their arms twisted to even offer that much. At one point they had proposed to buy their way out of the affordable set aside requirement altogether by paying into a "homeownership fund" presumably to help people buy homes far away from these apartments. Then-councilmember Cantrell really liked this idea, in fact.
It's an important point to consider especially now that we've taken up the task of developing a citywide "inclusionary zoning" policy. One option discussed at a recent City Council meeting would be based on an "incentive" model that could end up looking very much like the scheme Torres has carved out for himself on the Greenway. This mayor and City Council keep hoping they can combat the housing crisis by helping real estate oligarchs build nice things for rich people. Moving them away from that thought is going to be a heavy lift.
That lift is going to be all the more heavy if people like Torres don't have to answer any questions about this stuff. Sidney is gonna be okay no matter what happens.
The reason I’ve started looking at buying iconic bars and locations is because it’s a proven fact that when the economy goes to crap, people still go to drink. Iconic bars with iconic names, especially if you have a live music permit.Maybe we need to start thinking about what the crap economy plan is for the rest of us. Besides just drinking, that is. Maybe that's what the "lifestyle center" is for.