Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How to buy a City park, Part I

Posted on Wed, Dec 10, 2008 at 3:58 PM

Not just anyone can purchase any ol' piece of publicly owned green space that catches his or her eye. No, sir. It takes research (there be laws and whatnot), connections, and money. But if you, too, want to get in on the great near-downtown land grab of the late aughts (preferably with a limited-service hotel, or something else that won't visually upstage the, ah, distinctive design of the nearby 'Dillodome), District 2's ongoing attempt to offer Healy-Murphy Park to the La Villita Development corp highest bidder provides a few handy starter tips.

1. Get to know the appropriate Council Member.

You'll need the full support, advocacy even, of the council person who oversees the district in which your future development is located. Money increases name recognition (or stickiness, as the kids say). Example: Between July 2005 and March 2008, lobbyist Baltazar "Walter" Serna and Sherry Chaudhry of La Villita Development** gave District 2 Councilwoman Sheila McNeil $3,250 -- not a huge sum global-wise, but signficant enough under our strict campaign-donation limits.

2. Do your homework

Don't assume that just because the public owns it, it's off limits. Turns out the City can part with parkland less than two acres in size if it's not being used by the general public as a park. (Note: It helps if your new Council friend is adept at defining people out of the term "general public.")

3. Write a very nice letter*

4. Hope to god neighborhood activists don't get involved

5. Wait for the City to open the bidding process and aim to be the highest bidder without going too much over the telegraphed sales price (in this case $800,000)

* This was the earliest document returned in response to an open-record request we filed with the City asking for documents related to the proposed sale of Healy-Murphy park as far back as May 2005. Although it looks damning -- i.e. as if Councilwoman McNeil initiated the process to sell the park at Serna's request, McNeil says that's not so (although, she said, La Villita Devpmnt is still interested in the property). There was talk of selling the park as early as Spring 2007 through the TIRZ #11 and SAGE (San Antonio for Growth on the East Side), she says. We're currently seeking documentation of those discussions. Serna did not return phone calls seeking comment.

** Sherry Chaudhry is the registered agent for La Villita Development and Chaudhry Real Estate Management is a general partner.

Stay tuned for more handy tips in next week's edition of the Current. The City had originally planned to unveil the draft request for bids at a public meeting ahead of Christmas, but it's looking more like early January every day.

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