Image: Artist rendering of the new southwest corner of the Woodlands Mall under secret deal between outgoing Woodlands Township Board Chairman Gordy Bunch and his current landlord, The Woodlands Mall Associates, L.L.C. Source: The Woodlands Township.
The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
The Woodlands, November 21 – After six months of secret negotiations between outgoing Woodlands Township Board Chairman Gordy Bunch and his current landlord (for his insurance business), The Woodlands Mall Associates, L.L.C. (“WMA”), Bunch persuaded his allies on the Township Board all to vote in favor of a massive $80 million favorable tax treatment proposal to finance a 1200 space parking garage for a new retail and hotel development in the southwest corner of the Woodlands Mall. The project includes tearing down the existing parking garage next to Cheesecake Factory and P.F. Chang’s to make room for 80,000 square feet of retail space, a 200 room full service hotel, and a 120 room select service hotel.
The Township Board voted 5 to 1 for the project, with Board member Ann Snyder the only dissenting vote. Bunch abstained with the absurd explanation that “There is a perceived conflict of interest because I’m a tenant at the mall.”
Bunch had kept the negotiations secret for at least six months, although he did permit his fellow Board members very limited information about the ongoing negotiations during secret portions of three Township Board meetings. The massive proposal and its secrecy complete Bunch’s and his cohorts’ tenure on the Township Board under a general policy of secrecy, withholding information from citizens in The Woodlands, and backroom expenditures of public tax dollars.
During the Board discussion, Snyder attempted to argue “that we pause and let the community know what this is” before voting on it. Bunch interrupted Snyder and, at first, wouldn’t allow her to speak at all. Eventually, after he had disrupted Snyder’s presentation, Bunch allowed her to finish before Bunch hastily brought the matter to a vote.
Snyder, who had sat through the secret Board meetings about the proposal, noted that delaying Board approval of the project would not “endanger it in any way.”
Improperly, the Township Board held an executive session after Bunch had announced opening a public hearing on the matter. At the time when Bunch opened the public hearing, no one in the public even had one iota of information, other than this newspaper’s previous reporting, about the nature of the proposal. Bunch then convened a secret executive session for the Board to receive secret information. At the conclusion of the secret meeting, Bunch led his Board back into the Boardroom to allow the public to hear a brief presentation and then react.
Renowned real estate attorney Nelda Blair, who served as the first Chairman of the Woodlands Township Board, told the Board, “I think it is highly improper for this matter to be considered tonight, when there’s a new board to come, because the public doesn’t have any information.” Blair urged Board members to vote against the proposal without allowing the public to learn more about the proposal, which will bring huge economic risk and massive traffic congestion to the Woodlands Town Center.
The Town Center already has a massive excess capacity of retail space, hotels, and offices. Walking through the Woodlands Town Center, one observes empty and failing retail businesses. The Mall has struggled enormously since online retail shopping has become the dominant means by which American consumers shop.
Brad Bailey, who will take office as a Township Director, later in November, told the Board, “This is a sneaky business deal without any public awareness or any public input. This deal is exactly why four seats of this Board will turn over in 48 hours.”
“This is a sneaky business deal without any public awareness or any public input. This deal is exactly why four seats of this Board will turn over in 48 hours.” – – – Woodlands Township Director-Elect Brad Bailey, Friday, November 18, 2022.
Another highly regarded real estate attorney, Walter Cooke, also raised major questions about the economic viability of the project.
Of course, the Board ignored the citizens who spoke, because they had already decided during the Board’s secret meetings how they would proceed.
The Board acted so hastily that the Township’s legal counsel, Bret Strong, urged the Board to approve a resolution which would allow Bunch to change the terms of the deal without further Board action.