Voters have final say on SPI funds

Will SPI get the cash?

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — It’s up to the voters whether to leave $50 million on the table.

Island voters will have to decide if the city or county will receive the Island’s venue tax revenue.

Both the city and county have proposals for a venue tax on the Nov. 8 ballot, but only one can haul in the Island’s portion of the tax — not both.

At a recent City Council meeting, Commissioner Dennis Stahl said the venue tax, if approved, will generate $50 million over the next 20 years and it’s going to be very important where those $50 million are going.

“It will give us an opportunity to invest in infrastructure and help grow this Island,” Stahl said.

The vote for the South Padre Island venue tax will take place during the regular early voting and general election set for just a few weeks from now.

The hotel occupancy tax is currently at 14.5 percent. The council would like to raise the HOT tax to 16.5 percent with voter approval.

However, citizens will have to cast their votes to raise the hotel occupancy tax by 2 percent for the venue tax for the Island on the first floor of city hall.

The general election will be held on the second floor.

Officials said because the money is raised on the Island, the people of the Island should decide how it will be spent.

“The funds will only be generated by our overnight visitors and the revenue will only be invested on South Padre Island,” said Barry Patel, SPI mayor. “The venue tax election does not affect property tax, sales tax or the general fund.”

Patel said the city has a short list of projects it would like to use the venue tax revenue for.

He said the tax would help pay for more medians on Padre Boulevard and improvements, sports venues and related purchases.

“It will also help us develop and purchase a convention center annex,” Patel said.

City officials have an idea to build a water sports venue on the bay side.

Patel said it will encompass four different kinds of water sports for water recreation.

“The city plans to focus on wind surfing, paddle boarding, kayaking and kite boarding,” Patel said.

Another idea is to build an amphitheater behind the convention center.

“We are adding all that stuff to the venue tax agenda,” Patel said.

Another hot topic has been the idea of building a multilevel parking garage.

He said the city is very serious about adding a parking garage.

“South Padre Island has been short of parking for many, many years,” Patel said.

More than just politicians on the Nov. 8 ballot

HARLINGEN — County officials want to build an amphitheater and an ecological nature center on South Padre Island to offer more activities and attract more visitors.

But it will be up to the Cameron County voters in the general election if the county will receive the funding through the hotel occupancy tax and a percentage of the car rental tax to pay for the two proposed venue projects.

Both proposals are on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Isla Blanca amphitheater

The first proposal is to build a $1.5 million amphitheater for outdoor entertainment at Isla Blanca Park.

The amphitheater will be a multi-purpose facility at the Dolphin Cove site.

Officials say, if approved, visitors would be able to gather and witness a rocket launch across the ship channel as well as entertainment acts.

Ecological center

The second proposal is a $10 million ecological nature center to be located on 23 acres of land off Highway 100 on the Bahia Grande.

There will be kayak paddling trails and the center will intersect the rural trails being created throughout the Bahia Grande.

According to a county brochure, this unique area is home to animals such as the ocelot, plants and marine life that is not found anywhere else.

“This center will house exhibits detailing the natural beauty of the region,” said David Garcia, Cameron County administrator. “It will have outlooks that will provide access to the many birds of the local wetlands, information about things to do and see in our coastal area.”

If approved, funding for the projects would come from the hotel occupancy tax paid for by visitors.

Hotel guests visiting and staying in hotels throughout Cameron County will pay for the venue projects through the hotel occupancy tax.

Garcia said 2 percent of the hotel occupancy tax and 5 percent of car rental tax revenues will be used to construct the facilities.

Garcia said many other counties have used this type of funding to build stadiums or in support of professional sports teams.

The Texas Legislature created special funding for counties and cities to develop certain legally-defined venue projects designed to provide recreational, athletic, convention and civic opportunities to their residents and visitors.

“It’s up to the voters,” Garcia said. “All and all, this is a good tool to have and if the voters approve the venue tax, we will have another funding tool.”