Despite the objections of two of its members, city council has approved a lease between the city and the Del Rio Chamber of Commerce and the Del Rio Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The lease agreement was approved Tuesday during the regular meeting of the Del Rio City Council.
Councilman Raul C. Ojeda made a motion to approve a resolution authorizing the city manager to execute a lease agreement between the city and the Del Rio Chamber of Commerce and Del Rio Convention and Visitors Bureau for a total of 3,058 square feet of office space in two areas inside the Del Rio Civic Center, 1915 Veterans Blvd. Councilwoman Liz Elizalde de Calderon gave the second.
The term of the lease is three years, and the rent is $7,200 per year, payable in installments of $600 per month.
Councilwoman Diana Bejarano Salgado said at the outset of the discussion, “I think 20 cents a square foot is an insult. The chamber and the convention and visitors bureau has been at 17 cents a square foot for God-knows-how-many years at a time when things are so tight for us, and we charged everybody else more. This, to me, whoever worked on this, I don’t know what they were thinking, but I definitely don’t go along with it.”
“I realize that we should give them a break, but this is not acceptable as far as I’m concerned,” the councilwoman added.
Civic Facilities Manager Leno Hernandez told the council he helped prepare the recommendation on the lease to the council and said City Manager Matt Wojnowski recommended the $600 per month rental fee.
“We realized that this would probably lead to a discussion, so we were hoping to at least throw a number out there that would allow the discussion, and there were a number of factors that were taken into consideration when we were trying to develop that,” Hernandez said.
Among those factors were “the value that the chamber of commerce and the convention and visitors bureau bring to the city of Del Rio,” the lease agreement history and the fact that the chamber and the convention and visitors bureau are two separate organizations.
Hernandez said he had watched every discussion the council had held on the lease over the past two years.
“There was no clear directive, except that $500 was too low and standard market value was too high,” Hernandez said.
He added, “Convention and visitors bureaus would typically get housed for free by the cities, basically because the cities are paying them to do work, not to pay rent.”
“The most comparable (situation) to the Del Rio Chamber of Commerce and the Del Rio Convention and Visitors Bureau was San Angelo. They’re housed at the beautiful visitors center (in San Angelo) and they’re leasing that building from the San Angelo Health Foundation for a very, very low market value, similar to what we’ve been having,” Hernandez said.
Salgado asked Hernandez if he was aware of “the going rate” for commercial property leases on Veterans Boulevard, and Hernandez said he had spoken with several local real estate agents, but added the amounts they discussed were for for-profit businesses moving into a property.
“This didn’t fit, in my opinion, I didn’t see it that way,” Hernandez said.
He reminded the council that when it recently raised the rent for the Del Rio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which was leasing space in the Del Rio Transportation Depot, the chamber moved out because the organization couldn’t afford the increase.
Councilman Rowland Garza said, “This is a partnership with the chamber of commerce and the convention and visitors bureau, and we’ve treated other partnerships similar with various discounts associated with rents (and) a few non-profits that don’t pay rent.”
He asked if Hernandez had spoken with chamber representatives to find out “if they’re okay with the $600.”
Hernandez said they were.
Blanca Larson, the executive director of the Del Rio Chamber, also spoke to the council and said she, too, views the relationship between the city, the chamber and the convention and visitors bureau as a partnership.
Larson also said the chamber and convention and visitors bureau pay their own utilities, and Hernandez pointed out both organizations contribute an additional $11,000 to $12,000 annually in civic center rental revenues to city coffers.
Garza pointed out it would cost the city “immensely more” to perform all of the convention and visitors bureau functions.
“I don’t see them as a burden or a loss of revenue. Their value exceeds the amount of money the city gains in rent,” Garza said.
Councilman Alfredo “Fred” Carranza Jr. said, “These aren’t commercial rates. We have to understand that. The chamber and the convention and visitors bureaus aren’t businesses, so it’s hard to compare. Yes, the going rates are $1 or $1.50 (per square foot). We can’t do that because they’re not a business. That’s my feeling. I have to value what they do for the city of Del Rio, and we are partners. They work with us. Let’s come to an agreement that’s fair.”
Hernandez also reminded the council since the convention and visitors bureau is funded 100 percent by hotel occupancy tax funds, any increase would be paid by the city’s own money.
Elizalde de Calderon, too, called the partnership between the city and the two organizations “an asset to the community.”
The council voted 4-2 to approve the lease agreement as proposed, with Salgado and Ojeda voting against.