Dubious Deal

Special tax zones are already stimulating growth-a thriving cottage industry of attorneys, lobbyists, high paid consultants, developers and questionable financial projections

Wulfe's track record shows earlier successes. In 1993, he bought the Meyerland Mall from the Resolution Trust Corporation, which took over the assets held by failed savings-and-loan associations. Wulfe tore down some of the mall and redeveloped it into a thriving shopping center. Perhaps because he was using his own money, Wulfe didn't terminate any leases, nor did he buy anyone out to make room for the renovation. A few years ago, he sold Meyerland, reportedly for $80 million.

Wulfe says that "ultimately" the Gulfgate redevelopment will happen as well. Until then, the city has upped the taxpayers' stake in the deal. Last month, Council approved a 185-acre expansion to the TIRZ to help redevelopment of blighted commercial properties adjacent to the mall. According to Wulfe's revised project plan, the additional $4.6 million in public improvements planned for the expansion will protect the public's original $14 million investment.

"By and large, the thing that was most frightening was the neighborhood, which was really in very bad condition, blighted, run-down," Wulfe says. "The demographics show the average income is very low, low to moderate. We need to lift up the entire area."

The city's TIRZ policy is increasingly controversial: On July 20, 1,200 people protested a proposed TIRZ for the Memorial City area.
The city's TIRZ policy is increasingly controversial: On July 20, 1,200 people protested a proposed TIRZ for the Memorial City area.
Vinson & Elkins attorney Robert Randolph provides legal services to nearly a dozen TIRZs while helping legislators broaden the state law on tax-increment reinvestment.
Phillippe Diederich
Vinson & Elkins attorney Robert Randolph provides legal services to nearly a dozen TIRZs while helping legislators broaden the state law on tax-increment reinvestment.

If the project works, it's a pretty good deal for Ed Wulfe. According to his TIRZ development agreement, Wulfe will lease the mall for $1 a year for 50 years, receive a $500,000 development fee and, as "exclusive" leasing agent, will command a fee of $4 per square foot. He'll also be paid an $8,000 monthly "management" fee.

As for Husein Ali, he's making ends meet with his jewelry business while his court case continues. He says it'll be a while before he recovers from the Gulfgate cookie-store fiasco.

"My wife wanted to buy a house," says Ali, "but I put all of our money into the cookie store. I was there day and night for a month to build that store. It's bigger than money to me."

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