When the city council in October unveiled plans for a massive $450 million commercial development that would rise through an unprecedented public-private partnership, administrators said they hoped to have a signed final agreement by the end of January.
But five months later — and almost two months past the city’s tentative deadline for a final agreement — there’s no agreement and new information about Epicenter League City has been scant.
“Soon there will be an announcement regarding progress with Epicenter,” Linda Merritt, spokeswoman for the developer behind the project, said Wednesday.
The project could one day bring four hotels, a convention center, arenas for a hockey and a baseball team, restaurants and shops and other businesses to an area of League City alongside Interstate 45. The council in late October approved a predevelopment agreement with a group called Epicenter of League City LLC.
Epicenter of League City LLC is a newly formed company, but the company behind it, Western Spherical Developers LLC, has more than 70 years of combined experience, according to the project’s website.
Western Spherical Developers LLC is listed to a Friendswood address, but has no apparent website.
City administrators declined Wednesday to comment on the project’s status other than to say they were continuing negotiations toward a development agreement.
The delay is a source of frustration for at least one councilman.
“I’m most disappointed in the fact that, with all the due diligence the city did leading up to this, we are still working through this,” Councilman Larry Millican said, while also saying the city was still in active talks with the developer. “Staff spent a lot of time and energy going in to validate the predevelopment agreement. So, I’m surprised it’s gone this long.”
Staff research into what eventually became the Epicenter League City project began several years before the council approved the predevelopment agreement, Millican said.
The city in May 2018, for instance, hired Washington D.C.-based Brailsford & Dunlavey for an initial $49,600 to study the feasibility of the project, said Sarah Greer Osborne, spokeswoman for the city.
That group determined the project was viable, given the developer’s projections and ability to pay for the project, Millican said.
But even before commissioning that report, city staff for years lobbied for the legislation that eventually became House Bill 2445 and worked with two different sites for a future development like the Epicenter one, Millican said.
House Bill 2445, which the city hopes to use to provide some benefits to the project, went to the governor May 30, 2017 and was approved without his signature June 15, 2017, amending Chapter 351 of the Texas Tax Code.
The bill will allow League City to pledge the state’s share of hotel occupancy taxes collected in the city to pay for tourism-related improvements, such as a convention center, entertainment-related convention center facilities or hotel infrastructure.
Both Millican and Councilman Chad Tressler agreed that the city still hoped to reach a final agreement soon, but was just slightly behind schedule.
“When you’re working around developments, you are always going to have some hiccups,” Millican said.
The longer it takes before a final development agreement, the longer it could take for the project to begin, Millican said.
As part of the agreement, the developer would fund the design and construction of a new, larger sportsplex for the city on the growing western side of town on about 100 acres near the Bay Colony subdivision, replacing the Chester L. Davis Sportsplex.
The current sportsplex sits on prime real estate along Interstate 45 that would one day house the new development.
But depending on when a final agreement is signed, the developer might have to wait until baseball season is over to begin work, Millican said.
“You’re looking at about a nine or 10-month time frame to build a sportsplex on the other side of the freeway,” Millican said.
Once a final development agreement is signed, construction could begin as soon as 30 days later, officials have said.