Second Thought: Thursday, April 21, 2004
TIFfy Days are Here Again

We all need a tax break.

By Dan McGraw

When I heard that the Fort Worth City Council came up with $40 million in tax money to bring Cabela’s — a Nebraska-based hunting/fishing/camping mega-store — to our city, I was extremely pleased. So many times, I’ve heard friends opine that Fort Worth is just one hunting/fishing/camping megastore away from the big time.

As it stands now, you have to drive all the way to the Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World in Grapevine to meet your hunting/fishing/camping megastore needs. And who would ever think of shopping at the pedestrian Wal-Mart or Academy Sports & Outdoors for a fishing rod or one of those brown jackets Dubya wears when he clears brush down in Crawford? None of them have waterfalls or stuffed bears like Cabela’s is said to be bringing to the Alliance Airport area. What serious hunter or angler would dare shop at a store without waterfalls and stuffed animals?

Fort Worth wants to use a “tax increment financing” district — or TIF — to funnel money to Cabela’s. I’ve tried to figure out what a TIF does, but like the NBA salary cap, it gives me serious tired head. All I can say for sure is that some businesses are hand-picked by the council to get their taxes reduced in the name of development. So a company like Cabela’s goes from being highly profitable — to extremely profitable. Otherwise, God forbid, they might take their hunting/fishing/camping megastore concept to Oklahoma City or Burleson.

I have no problem with that rationale, as long as it’s applied fairly. The logic behind the Cabela’s TIF deal is that it will be an attraction that draws six million tourists a year, more than the Alamo draws annually. I wonder where the Wal-Mart in White Settlement ranks in drawing “tourists”? Their parking lot is pretty full on Saturdays.

As long as Fort Worth has $40 million to give to Cabela’s, I suggest we do more of these types of TIFs. We have so many needs in this city, so many businesses that are possible magnets for growth and development and tourism, that we need to expand the program. Here are a few suggestions:

Fred’s Café TIF. Fred’s is indeed a civic treasure, but its music stage on the patio is a little on the sparse side. Even with great burgers, you can’t draw tourists with corrugated metal and plastic chairs. I suggest we rebate taxes to Fred’s to build a 3,000 seat open-air amphitheater, a place where the jazz stylings of the Brian Sharp 6 can really shine. There will also be an adjacent 30-story high-rise office/condo building, constructed in the shape of a giant fishbowl beer mug.

Fort Worth Weekly TIF. Not to disparage the newspaper that pays me beer money for this column, but their West 7th Street digs are a little ratty. They need a new six-story office complex to house more people to take ads for “massage therapists” and bankruptcy attorneys.

The Wreck Room TIF. Some say The Wreck Room doesn’t quite fit in with the new $350,000 condo crowd that is taking over the Cultural District. So, under this “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” TIF, the Wreck will acquire the Bank One parking lot through eminent domain and turn it into a lagoon. The newly named Wreck Room Resort and Spa will have thatched cabańas on stilts above the water, a tranquil oasis in the heart of the city. Plus it will be pirate-themed. Maybe a casino.

Texas Rangers’ Fans Beer Drinking TIF. This TIF would allow Rangers fans to drink beers for a buck each, to be subsidized by the City of Arlington. The team would get the extra money as a rebate to buy out the contract of Chan Ho Park. The fans would get the benefit of drinking this team pretty.

The Peter Whipple TIF. Peter bartends at J&J’s Hideaway on the West Side, and this TIF would be different, being that the TIF would follow Peter wherever he goes, not tied into anything geographically. Peter is always the life of the party when he goes to restaurants and bars and concerts, so this TIF would repay Peter for the money he spends. Basically, Peter gets comped. But he is an economic development engine. There are a lot of TCU women students who follow him around.

One may think these suggestions are jokes. But the bigger joke is that the Fort Worth City Council is actually going to give $40 million to a profitable business like Cabela’s under the rather confusing rationale that “shoppers” and “tourists” are one and the same. But, hey, if you’re going to give away the store to get a store, might as well let the rest of us on the TIF gravy train. The council just needs to let the rest of us know where and when we can apply.

Dan McGraw is a Fort Worth author and freelance writer.

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