January 08, 2018

Is latest hope for Marlin, Texas, fading again?
With #txlege related pondering

The Marlin VA hospital in its glory days, or near them. The shuttered facility
was purchased earlier this year on a promise of being re-opened while being
re-purposed for other veterans-related needs, yet nothing has happened so far.
Photo by Waco Tribune/Rod Aydelotte
I had heard a few weeks ago that the old Veterans Administration hospital in Marlin, shuttered for a decade or so, was being reopened.

I wasn't aware that the state of Texas had finally sold this, let alone that it was being reopened.

Well, per various news stories, the idea that Marlin may be returning to an Eisenhower-era or earlier golden age (for white people, at least) seem to be fading more and more. Perhaps the most recent hope shouldn't have been so spit-polished in the first place.

The dream seemed to have hit high tide 18 months or so ago, when Houston's Sterling Real Estate Development made noises about buying both the old VA hospital AND the iconic Falls Hotel (No. 8 Hilton Hotel by date of opening) with the idea of redeveloping the old mineral waters and baths.

Well, it eventually opted to buy just the VA. But its plans to open a portion of that — 30 beds — itself remains behind schedule and drawing more scrutiny.

When former Marlin mayor Elizabeth Nelson, who will gold-plate as well as spit-polish about anything she can in trying to find a positive attitude, and is on a Marlin board representing Sterling's plans, starts making noise in public, you know something isn't right. Or certainly seems that way.

According to SRED subsidiary Operation ReLaunch, a vehicle created just for this, at least part of the VA was already supposed to be reopened months ago. And, that's ALL that's on the website. The website is set up for more, but that's ALL it has.

A Houston newspaper friend didn't have any additional details to report.

And, searching for "Sterling Real Estate Development" only returns one page of Google hits, and they're not all for that company, even. Also, none of the listings on that one page of hits is a company website for the parent company, vs. that single Operation ReLaunch page. Somebody's flying under the radar, and it looks like the state of Texas was so tired of a white elephant that it got rid of it, no matter what.

I find it more interesting yet that NONE of the news stories I have read mention ANY "principals" in SRED. Not a person from the company is quoted by name, or even indirectly quoted by name, in a single story. Nor is any reference made to why the state, along with state Rep. Kyle Kacal and state Sen. Brian Birdwell, made the decision to sell to this particular entity.

And that's not all on the news coverage or lack of.

Looking at both the Waco Trib and KWTX-TV, which has been the main teevee outlet on the situation, besides no names and no coments from SRED folks, we're missing the following:
1. What price did the Texas General Land Office sell the building for? (This is a state agency; if nobody told you at the time, it's time for an Open Records Act request.)
2. What was the asking price at the time? (That may not be on any record, but somebody may talk.)
3. Does the Falls County Appraisal District have an appraised value for the site, both now that it's private property, but also when the state owned it?
4. If there's a significant difference between 1 and 2, above all, and maybe 1 and 3, why?
5. If something pans out on 4, how much did either state Rep. Kyle Kacal or state Sen. Brian Birdwell facilitate this price drop?
6. Related to 5, if you get names of principals at SRED, have any of those names made some campaign contributions? Had any lobbying-type visits to state House or Senate committees on which one or the other of those two gentlemen serve? FYI, Birdwell served this past Lege as chair of the Select Committee on State Real Property Data Collection; I'm sure this committee has interactions with the GLO. Sounds like a place to start right there. He was also on the Senate's State Affairs Committee.

Ditto on these talking points if anybody from the Houston Chronicle picks up a thread on this due to the Houston-based nature of SRED.

The local paper in Marlin? It's behind a paywall, but since it hasn't even had a full-time, on-site editor for several months, probably has nothing on this.

And, no, I'm not being cynical. I'm just being properly skeptical on all of this.

People in Marlin have been critical of Chris Martinez for not doing more with the hotel. But maybe the reason the deal with the developer fell through is that he did more due diligence or exercised more scrutiny.

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I've contacted folks from both the non-Marlin papers, and the TV station, mentioned above. We'll see what, if anything, results.

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