Op-Ed: H-E-B’s Combo Loco
Published: November 6, 2013
In the 1980s, H-E-B purchased the Arsenal property and turned it into their headquarters. According to Todd Piland, H-E-B’s executive vice president of real estate and facilities, H-E-B has been intending to take over the street since they first relocated to the area.
In May of 2011 and possibly even before that, H-E-B held private talks with the City concerning the building of a downtown grocery store and the closure of South Main Avenue. A downtown grocery store had been needed since 2008 when H-E-B shut down two stores on the South Side. As a result of the 2011 talks, the Express-News reported that city officials at the City Manager’s office jumped the gun and sent out canvassing letters regarding the street closures to all potentially affected entities. When H-E-B protested, the City had to apologize to the company and recall the letters.
Then, the City announced that it was offering a $1 million dollar incentive for a downtown grocery store. Four companies submitted plans to the city, with H-E-B’s being announced as the winning proposal on August 30, 2013. H-E-B’s proposal came with a catch, though. In exchange for building the store, they wanted a street.
At a Coffee with the Councilman event, District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal explained his take on H-E-B’s proposal, saying, “I believe that H-E-B thought that because the City wants a grocery store so badly—and obviously we do if we’re willing to give somebody $1 million to do it—that since H-E-B wanted to close the street anyway, it would be a good time to tie the two together. They may have even gotten some advice from city staffers that this was a good idea.”
Why Does H-E-B Want Main Avenue?
All this begs the question of why H-E-B wants this street so badly. I asked this question to Piland and he gave me three reasons.
First, H-E-B is concerned about the safety of their employees crossing South Main. According to Piland, none of their employees have ever been in an accident crossing the street, but one employee did get bumped by a car several years ago. In addition, he says there have been several near-misses.
As a resident of Main Avenue who crosses the street multiple times daily, I can vouch that you do have to be careful when crossing the street at certain times of the day. That’s the nature of living downtown on a major thoroughfare. Speed bumps, stop signs and other traffic-control devices could be added to alleviate this issue.
The second reason Piland gave me involves campus security. In another meeting with H-E-B, Dya Campos, the company’s director of governmental and public affairs, explained that H-E-B has in the past received terroristic threats. I can certainly believe that. As a writer of textbooks that discuss evolution, I have received several terroristic threats myself. So have all the publishers I’ve ever worked for. My boyfriend, James Rodriguez, is a lawyer and says that the courthouse receives multiple threats every month. This is the current state of affairs in this country. We cannot shut down streets next to every organization that receives a threat. We’d have no streets left.