Op-Ed: H-E-B’s Combo Loco
Published: November 6, 2013
The final reason Piland gave me for needing to close the street is that their company is growing and needs the space. To me, this is their most serious argument. When looking at their recently revealed master plan for their campus, I saw several indications that H-E-B already has a great deal of space to grow into. First, they are planning on covering half of the requested segment of South Main in green space, which sounds lovely, I will admit, but this green space will be walled off from the public.
The second half of the street will be covered in surface parking. It is important to note that the Lone Star Community Plan adopted by the City in March of this year designated H-E-B’s property as being underutilized because the structures were worth less than the land itself. The primary reason for this designation was the large amount of surface parking already on H-E-B’s campus, which is not a good use of land in a dense urban core.
So, according to the plan, H-E-B needs the street to add around 10-20 parking spaces to their campus. Interestingly, they own, but do not use, the parking lot on the northeast corner of the intersection of S. Main and César E. Chávez. They also own, but lease out, the parking lot across from Amols’ Specialty Inc. at Flores and Arsenal Streets. According to their master plan, H-E-B has no intention of building on these lots in the foreseeable future.
In addition, when I asked Piland about the mixed-use developments shown on the plan along the block of Flores Street that H-E-B wants to develop in exchange for closing Main, he explained to me that they have no set ideas yet about what will go there. He added that they likely won’t start any kind of project there until long after he retires. Furthermore, two of the properties—512 and 516 S. Flores St.—are currently under litigation at the probate court. This litigation calls into question H-E-B’s title to this property. So, that leaves three city blocks that we know of that are already in bad condition and will be left to continue to deteriorate over time.
There is a common, but highly unethical, practice in real-estate in which a developer purchases lots of land and lets them deteriorate. This causes the property around the land to also decrease in value, making it easier to purchase adjacent lots when they go on sale. In this way, a developer can accumulate large parcels of land at lower than market value. I am not accusing H-E-B of doing this, but I think we should all question why a company that owns so much undeveloped land around its campus is insisting it needs a public street in order to grow.
The Drama Unfolds
In September, the City canvassed several of the entities that would be affected by the closure of South Main. One of the entities canvassed was the King William Association, which responded to the canvassing by opposing the closure. Three different KWA insiders have privately confirmed that H-E-B has now postponed a meeting with Zet Baer, KWA Fair Coordinator, concerning H-E-B’s financial support and infrastructure enhancements they traditionally donate to the Fiesta event.