Image: The Woodlands Mall faces tough financial times, but outgoing Woodlands Township Chairman Gordy Bunch has cooked up a secret deal, which will likely cost local taxpayers $80 million.
The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
The Woodlands, November 16 – Outgoing Woodlands Township Chairman Gordy Bunch will try to ram through a secret deal he’s completed with The Woodlands Mall Associates, L.L.C., the current owner of The Woodlands Mall during a Township Board meeting at the unusual time of 4 p.m. on Wednesday, November 16, 2022.
The Mall has faced very tough financial times during the past decade. The pandemic and the massive growth of Amazon certainly didn’t help the situation at all.
Bunch secretly placed on the agenda for a Special Meeting of the Woodlands Township Board of Directors an item to “Receive, consider and act upon an Economic Development Agreement by and among the Township, the EDZ, and The Woodlands Mall Associates, L.L.C.” The Golden Hammer has confirmed with two officials of the Woodlands Township and one other official of the Montgomery County government, all of whom requested anonymity for fear of reprisal from Bunch, that the deal will cost Woodlands taxpayers approximately $80 million through “tax rebates” given to the Mall development company.
The deal will involve a major structural makeover for the Mall as well as construction of a hotel complex connected to the Mall, according to the three confidential sources.
Strangely, this newspaper has also confirmed that Howard Hughes Corporation, the developer of The Woodlands, received no notice or information whatsoever from Bunch or from other Woodlands Township officials about the deal, according to two sources inside of Howard Hughes Corporation, both of whom also requested anonymity. The developer has the right to veto structural changes to the Mall.
Several Township Board members claimed that they have no knowledge whatsoever of the deal, which Bunch has negotiated in secret. Township Vice Chairman Bruce Rieser said, “I don’t have any details on the proposal; only that there have been discussions.”
Bunch was even more tight lipped about the situation. He refused to answer questions to inform the public what the subject matter of the Township Board meeting would be on Wednesday, November 16, 2022, at 4 p.m. Bunch merely responded, “We’ll be presenting tomorrow at 4 p.m. I’ll need to brief the Board before providing comments.”
Bunch’s unwillingness to disclose the costly deal for public review raises serious questions about the fairness of the arrangement as well as governmental transparency. He merely said, “There will be a public presentation prior to anyone voting on anything.” Even though Bunch claims otherwise, there will not be any opportunity for citizens to review or comment on the costly arrangement prior to Board approval. Bunch and three of his colleagues, Rieser, John Brown, and Jason Nelson, are leaving the Township Board on November 30 when their terms expire.
Bunch, whose company The Woodlands Financial Group, or TWFG, is a major tenant of the Mall, is actually planning to move away from the Mall area, after the company purchased one of the Parkwood Towers on Grogans Mill Road.
Bunch, Rieser, Nelson, Board member Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, and Board member Bob Milner has suffered harsh criticism for their secretive actions, which cost Woodlands taxpayers over $120 million, to prepare the community for incorporation as a city government. The voters soundly rejected the incorporation referendum in November, 2021, with 70% of Woodlands residents voting against a city government. Since then, Bunch has continued to operate the Township in secrecy, as the Mall deal illustrates.