Did mayor go too far with condo letter?

January 27, 2009 3:23:59 AM PST
It looks like a memo from the mayor. It's on city letter-head and is signed by him. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

But this is no letter to city council. It's asking Houstonians to rent from a private high-rise condo downtown. The question is did the mayor over-step his authority?

We caught up with Houston Mayor Bill White to find out why he put out the letter. White says instead of offering tax breaks, he's offering up this letter of support. His own aides admit it's unusual and some question whether the letter should have even been written.

One Park Place advertises luxury living. The 37 story, 346 unit building towers over Discovery Green Park. As construction crews work on the finishing touches, Mayor White has added his own signature of sorts.

"Because if this is successful, there will be a lot more opportunities for people to live close to where they work," the mayor told us.

Mayor White tells Houstonians how "One Park Place will be the residence of choice downtown." The seven paragraph letter is part of a packet potential residents will receive and was distributed to some downtown workers.

Some question whether it crosses the line.

"I don't think that's the mayor's job, that's the way I personally feel," said Houstonian Julius Jones.

Others just have questions.

"Is it because of certain business interests," asked Houstonian Keh Guo.

And there are those who support the mayor's efforts.

"It's going to help employment, more revenue," said Houstonian Jose Alvarado. "The more high rises the more people we could fit in our city so go for it."

The mayor says the city has been soliciting a project like this for years and the letter is taking the place of tax dollars.

"I had told the developer that we couldn't offer tax breaks like a lot of cities did," the mayor said.

So instead of a tax abatement, he offered somewhat of a consolation prize for the developer.

"That I would do anything within my power to help him market it," he said.

It is worth noting public records show the developer of One Park Place, Marvy Finger, contributed at least $1,000 to the mayor's campaign back in 2007. Finger told Eyewitness News on the phone there are no hidden agendas, no ulterior motives, that the mayor wants downtown living to be a success no matter who's behind the development.

The mayor's response, "I don't do any special deals for anybody."

Mayor White says One Park Place isn't alone. He's made personal sales pitches to realtors and lenders in other developing parts of the city. He even sent a letter of support to potential new owners of the Houston Comets and says the bottom line is a win for One Park Place is a win for the city. The mayor says he would offer a similar letter of support to other new residential developments in downtown, especially those large scaled and considered high risk.

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