Haltom’s business community wants to see new incentives to revitalize the older parts of South and Central Haltom City.
HALTOM CITY, TX, December 18, 2023 /24-7PressRelease/ — Almost a half hour of Monday’s city council meeting was used by City Manager Rex Phelps to respond to the study presented by the Haltom United Business Alliance at the November 27th meeting. The third-party study showed a 29% vacancy rate in the main corridor from Belknap to Loop 820, and significant vacancy rates in Haltom City’s other corridors in South and Central Haltom City.
The City Manager questioned the source of the study, characterizing its independent author as uncredentialed. “The study was simply walking and driving the main corridors, reviewing each business address for occupancy, vacancy, and use,” said Joe Palmer, Communications Director for the Alliance. Palmer went on to say that the person they hired to do the study had a bachelor’s degree and was a third-year law student. No opinions were drawn or presented in the study, adding “counting and looking at business addresses isn’t difficult, and it’s pretty hard to mess it up, but it did take over a week of walking and driving.” The student was not a politician, but he could look at addresses on a list.
The City Manager said, “Staff was sent to check some of the areas measured in the study,” and that they reported a lower vacancy rate than the study reflects. Palmer was confused by this statement because counting businesses and vacant suites requires a full count in an area to arrive at a vacancy rate, according to him. It is not clear if the city employees walked the entire corridors, but if so, the numbers should match, counting postal addresses. HUBA said they would be glad would be glad to compare the postal addresses counted and occupied with the city’s results.
According to Palmer, HUBA’s long-standing request that the city develops some system for tracking business occupancy appeared to be ignored, and so the business group decided to hire an independent third-party firm to conduct one.
At the 49:17 mark of the meeting , (chose December 11 meeting at the link provided) the City Manager states, “We had become saturated with a number of businesses that didn’t produce a lot of community prosperity in terms of paying for themselves.” Palmer says it is worth highlighting that tax revenue generation appears to be one of the primary factors in the City Manager’s decision of whether a business gets to stay in Haltom City. “It sounds like if you are trying to run a small business here, you had better generate sales taxes or else you could be targeted for removal,” Palmer said. “The manager referenced sales and ad valorem taxes, so one has to wonder if the city had a purposed plan to do away with those businesses,” he added.
“It seems to me that we will always have some of those types of businesses, including service businesses, and although I certainly do not condone tax underreporting, the fact remains that small businesses will always be the bulk of businesses that fill spaces in the corridors of Haltom City,” said HUBA founder and local business owner Ron Sturgeon. He notes lots of service businesses, like insurance sales offices, are also likely not welcome. In a recent case, a buyer wanting to buy a building in Haltom City reported to Sturgeon that he had been told by staff that the existing use was not welcome, the city wanted to see retail. Waiting for small retail businesses is a dream he believes. Sturgeon argues that the city has limited business, citing vacancy in almost 1/3 of the buildings in at least one corridor, as well as council’s recent unanimous approval of an ordinance that will make it very hard for food trucks to operate in the city.
This isn’t the beginning of Sturgeon’s advocacy for small businesses in Haltom. He defends the study’s content, as well as its focus on the main corridors, since that is where the businesses mainly are, with about 400 in total. Sturgeon points out those corridors, which are becoming more and more vacant, are what everyone drives through to get to their home or business. “If anyone is thinking about moving their family or their business to Haltom City, they are going to drive through those corridors. They are unlikely to drive throughout the city after they see that the corridors have so many vacant and decrepit buildings,” Sturgeon pointed out.
“I cannot imagine why any city would want to run off businesses in its main commercial corridors that were not considered objectionable,” Sturgeon went on to say. The City Manager often refers to “business types that we want.” HUBA believes that discriminating arbitrarily is not a strategy to rebuild the southern and central parts of the city. Sturgeon predicts, based on what he sees with his eyes, that the next census will show an increased vacancy rate, and more empty buildings, as more businesses, of all types have left than new businesses that came. “We don’t know any other way to measure vacancy than to use postal addresses and note vacancies, and we love using empirical objective methods while talking about new warehouses and how well the city is doing attracting business.” He adds, “If we are attracting new businesses, great, let’s count all of those that left and those that came.”
The city manager commented that by working to increase sales taxes, Haltom City could lower property taxes (@50:40 mark in the video). HUBA reminds voters that, at the August 28th city council meeting, the Council raised Haltom City property taxes to the highest amount allowed by law without having to seek voter approval, which seems to be a disconnect from the plan to lower those taxes.
The independently conducted business census started with Haltom City’s own list of businesses that is based upon applications for certificates of occupancy. The city’s list is claimed by HUBA to be inaccurate because it is not updated whenever businesses change or move away. When the third party made in-person visits to the businesses, they found that one in five entries on the city’s list was wrong, or about 20%.
“We understand why the City Manager would discount the study, because it clearly undercuts the data that he has been relying on in his initiative to restrict and reduce the automotive related business community,” Palmer said. “Ultimately, the study had to be performed so that any discussion about the number of different types of businesses could be based on accurate numbers, rather than on the city simply trusting that its list of C.O.’s is still accurate after months or years,” Palmer added. “Their list is likely all they have to go on because they either don’t have the resources to do a true census, or they refuse to look that closely at the problem we have been telling them about for years.” City employee and spokesperson Jayson Steele says that the commercial vacancy rate in Haltom City is about 7.9%, a figure that he says is sourced from a commercial realtor’s report. He recently introduced a plan to charge businesses for abandoned shopping carts from their business, just one more new fee that other cities don’t have. The City Manager presents that rate for the entire city.
In response to this, the Business Alliance concedes that there may be more occupied buildings in other parts of the city, but maintains that these are secondary to the corridors, since those are what people see and experience most of the time. Sturgeon says, “I suspect that the vacancy rate is quite high in all areas of the city, and we want to rely on the empirical evidence. Our group may also study all the business addresses throughout the city. The Business Alliance requested from the city, under the open records act, all new C.O.s for all the businesses that came to the city in 2023 through November to add to the existing list for the prior years. The result of this is that about half of those 80 new businesses were on these four corridors that were the subjects of the census, according to the Alliance. That list was more accurate, which makes perfect sense, since all the businesses are less than 11 months old. The main list the city had been relying on includes all businesses forever.
The City Manager does not like form-based code, as has been recommended by HUBA to help with revitalizing the corridors, stating that the city’s consultant doesn’t believe it’s appropriate for that use. Palmer says, “If you look up form-based code successes, you will find many places where it has been used successfully to revitalize and put to use older buildings, such as Mansfield’s historic downtown.”
The City Manager says that the city’s consultant does not like the thought of reducing parking requirements, at least in the corridors. Yet nationwide, city after city is viewing parking requirements as inhibiting their ability to revitalize older areas. Austin, Texas recently completely repealed minimum parking requirements. This is one of the things that HUBA has been recommending for almost 2 years, and it would cost the city nothing to do it. A quick Google look up yields exciting success stories from cities of all sizes, according to Palmer.
The mayor states that the 30-year tax increment reinvestment zone that the city put in place should help, but HUBA has been critical because funds from the TIRZ can only do public improvements, and typically get spent for new apartments or areas needing infrastructure, and no one thinks 30 years is the proper amount of time to work on this issue. The city manager said in his comments, “We can do more than just the TIRZ.” Palmer says his group is thrilled about this and hopes to hear more, since the Business Alliance has asked the city many times for its plans to revitalize the south and central areas.
Toward the end of his speech admonishing the business community, the City Manager described Haltom City as “a hard-working class of community with not a lot of discretionary income.” Palmer points out Haltom City is composed of people who drive older cars in many cases, and need essential services, products, and employment to be nearby, though the city has made it clear that they will not allow automotive businesses of any type, not even the simplest of businesses like a tire store or a quick lube in a commercial zone, according to Palmer. No automobile businesses are allowed under any circumstance in the commercial zones under an ordinance they passed a year ago, and are only considered in industrial area. No one wants to drive to an industrial area to buy tires or have an oil change. HUBA believes the next empirical business census will show an overall decline in businesses in Haltom City, which, if true, will be very alarming, directly as a result of the city’s policies that are affecting all businesses, not just automotive.
“The City Manager states that he is working hard to attract new upscale apartments. That’s a great plan, agrees Palmer, but it would be easier to accomplish if the main corridors were thriving. With respect to Phelps’ statement that property valuations are up. Palmer sees no reason, based on this, why the city cannot reduce its total tax levy, which would allow residents to keep more of their money–hundreds of dollars a year, in some cases.
HUBA is pleased that the City Manager has attracted large distribution centers, but they are not on the main corridors, and although he believes they attract sales taxes, HUBA is quick to point out that almost none of the distribution centers sell retail, and so no sales tax is collected for these large distribution centers, and the employment per acre is much lower than small businesses would bring as prior studies have determined.
“The City Manager has said he wants to work with the Business Alliance, yet in two years has never implemented a single idea they proposed, or has asked to meet with them, and the city has had no public hearings on how to improve the south and central sections of the city. HUBA believes that having public hearings on how to revitalize the city could lead to a plan, and the city could then set those plans in motion with dates, and within a few years attract quite a few businesses,” said Sturgeon. He adds, “you might think that the optics of holding such hearings would at least appease the concerns of the citizens and businesses in those areas.”
According to Sturgeon, Haltom City is least a decade behind the other cities. “The Mayor wants to talk about Southlake, but Southlake doesn’t even charge food trucks for a permit. At prior hearings, council members have stated that they believe food trucks compete unfairly with the city’s restaurants. We need to make it easier than our surrounding cities for businesses to come here with a welcome hand. In most cases, they are not asking for money, they are simply asking for less red tape and fewer public hearings. Haltom City regulates its business community so tightly by requiring public hearing for almost any business, such as a dry cleaner or swimming pool supply store,” Sturgeon said.
“Without a plan, nothing is going to happen, and we have been without a plan now for two years.” Sturgeon is the founder of Make Haltom City Thrive Again. His billboard on Highway 121 has triggered over 7000 visits to his website, according to Sturgeon. Residents in the south and central areas of the city have echoed the business group’s concerns that Haltom is declining and that there is no plan to make it better. One citizen and ex-council person, Charlie Roberts, said, “We’re tired of hearing about improvements when we can see the decline in the southern and central parts of the city.”
Link to video archive of council meeting on December 11:
About Haltom City
Haltom City is a diverse, majority working-class city located between Dallas and Fort Worth in Tarrant County, TX. Haltom City is minutes from both the DFW Airport and Downtown Fort Worth with direct access to major highways including I-820 and SH-121. Due to an outdated and restrictive use matrix that discourages new business and deters growth, several areas of Haltom City have seen a decline in small businesses which provided goods and services and were a significant source of jobs, including the once-thriving automotive industry. However, Haltom City can reverse this trend and should prioritize development of inner-city land and vacant buildings, particularly in the major corridors close to the city’s center. The city is financially healthy with a capable manager and staff who would like to see diverse business development occur and need the support of the City Council to make it happen.
About Haltom United Business Alliance
Haltom United Business Alliance (HUBA) is a group of business owners dedicated to representing existing business interests in Haltom City and promoting the growth of diverse businesses as well. Innovative strategies are needed to create a strong tax base and enhance quality of life for residents, city employees, and business owners. All Haltom City business owners are eligible to join HUBA. For more information, contact Joe Palmer at (682) 310-0591 or by email at [email protected] or visit the group’s Facebook page at Haltom United Business Alliance.
About Make Haltom City Thrive Again
The Make Haltom City Thrive Again website offers information and resources about its purpose and goals. For more on Sturgeon’s personal ideas and background, check out his book Keeping the Lights on Downtown in America’s Small Cities and watch the videos on his Facebook page. Ron is also the founder of the Haltom United Business Alliance (HUBA) which represents existing business interests in Haltom City and promotes growth of diverse businesses as well. HUBA is not a political action committee and does not endorse candidates. If/when Ron endorses candidates, he will do so on his own with the Make Haltom City Thrive Again organization.
For the original version of this press release, please visit 24-7PressRelease.com here