Houston's Big Experiment

The city's first TIRZ set many precedents -- not all of them good

The long-neglected Fourth Ward, which hasn't seen so much as a new manhole cover in 50 years, has a TIRZ. So does Uptown Houston, 1,000 acres of conspicuous consumption that, to the relief of overheated shoppers, no doubt, was awarded a TIRZ to construct an air-conditioned pedestrian walkway, among other amenities.

As a public policy, it's difficult to imagine anything as far-reaching and significant as tax-increment reinvestment. Each zone is, in essence, governed not by elected officials, but by appointed boards with the power to spend millions of dollars in property tax revenues unavailable to other areas of the city, whose residents will, as a result, be forced to dip further into the general fund to maintain basic services.

By the year 2030, when most of the existing zones created by the city have run their course, more than $2 billion in public money will have been diverted away from the city, county and local school districts to repay the bonds. That is, if the proposed plans for those zones go off without a hitch. But, as Robert Silvers's experience in St. George Place tells us, that's a pretty big if.

E-mail Brian Wallstin at brian.wallstin@houstonpress.com.

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