Bexar County Revises Terms for Hot Wells County Park Land Transaction
Texas Construction News from Virtual Builders Exchange
Posted: 4-4-2017, 9:16 p.m.
by Adolfo Pesquera
San Antonio (Bexar County) - A donation agreement between the owner of the land where the Hot Wells Hotel and Spa stood has been rescinded and replaced.
Bexar County officials tasked with creating a historic site park based on the ruins of the bathhouse and hotel has to rework the agreement with developer James Lifshutz after an analysis of the cost of restorations came in higher than expected.
Betty Bueche, as the head of Bexar Heritage and Parks, explained Tuesday at court that two previously unknown environmental conditions increased the cost of abatement by $800,000. There is lead in the soil that is likely the result of lead paint that leached into the soil when the hotel caught fire. Also, underground tanks were found and must be removed.
There was also the question of what share of responsbility the county had for paying a $344,000 lien put on the property by the Edwards Aquifer Authority for capping the well the fed the bathhouse with hot spring water. Under the new agreement, the county agrees to pay a percent of the lien proportionate to the area it will control, 3.92 acres. That portion puts the county's obligation to the EAA at about $63,000.
Bexar County will also construct an entrance drive over the the Union Pacific railroad tracks that run parallel to Presa Street, and will provide Lifshutz's limited partnership (Hot Wells LP) access to that public right of way for the benefit of a commercial development he wants to build on land immediately north of the acreage he is donating to the county.
The county also gives notice that it may construct the entrance right of way at an alternate location, but any alternate must also be of benefit to Lifshutz.
County staff also discussed a draft of a special warranty deed. The terms of the deed require that the county obtain final plat approval of the proposed park site, and the deed will include a non-exclusive easement across the property for the benefit of the park and Hot Wells LP. The deed must be executed by Hot Wells LP by April 13.
For its part, Commissioners Court approved the deed by motion, rescinded the original donation agreement, and accepted a $1 million grant from the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife. With that grant, the county budget for the Hot Wells county park project totals more than $4.8 million.
The county's role in developing the park entails proceeding with the required environmental remediation, stabilizing the ruins, constructing pathways and signage, a parking lot, restrooms, and the aforementioned entrance/ROW. Estimated completion of the park project is within 18 to 24 months.
The Hot Wells Conservancy, a non-profit organization that will collaborate with the county to provide educational programs, is fundraising to restore a three-story section of the hotel. That structure will eventually become a visitor's center and the offices of the conservancy.
Hot Wells was a popular destination for movie stars, national and regional politicians and anyone else that wanted to be part of the movie scene during the silent film era. Scores of silent films were produced on and around the grounds of the grand hotel.
The hot sulphuric pools were also a popular tourist destination, beginning in the 1890s, in their own right. But the hotel burned in 1925. The bathhouses continued in operation for decades, and a cluster of rental cottages on the grounds kept bringing tourists. The site remained in use for recreation in some form into the 1970s.
Adolfo Pesquera is a veteran news journalist. He has previously worked for Hearst Corp., American Lawyer Media, News Corp and Freedom Communications. His work has been published in newspapers and magazines throughout the United States. He is a communications graduate of the University of Texas-PanAmerican.
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