SAN ANGELO, TX — Tom Green County commissioners agreed to investigate the options where the county would hold a bond referendum to pay for an approximate $40 million upgrade to the existing San Angelo Coliseum. The remodel envisions expanding the seating of the coliseum built in 1959 from just under 5,000 seats to 10,000 seats (when floor seating is used), remodeling the rest rooms, adding a food court, and adding VIP boxes.
The price of the project since when it was introduced at the April 2022 San Angelo Rodeo has risen from $24 million to $40 million today. The rodeo believes the committee and association can fundraise about $7 million for the project leaving the balance of the financing to a government bond. If the county issues the bond, a tax increase per average homestead in San Angelo would be around $50 per year for the life of the bond.
The county engaged a bond counsel — a specialized attorney — to determine if the general structure of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the City of San Angelo or a low-cost lease of the coliseum was enough to legally allow county bonds to finance a City-owned facility. On Friday, the bond counsel told the county no.
The counsel pointed to prior decisions of Attorney General Ken Paxton’s Public Finance division. By law, the Texas Attorney General’s finance division reviews all proposed bonds before the bond election can proceed.
The bond counsel pointed at two previous and similar decisions by the Texas Attorney General where a Texas county was attempting to finance improvements on leased properties with a county bond. The first was in Harris County, where the county was exploring selling $3.8 million in bonds to pay for a remodel of a hospital owned by another taxing entity, the hospital district. In that case, it bonds were approved because a hospital served a large enough public benefit. At the same time, the lease duration adds to the public benefit. A county could finance improvements on a hospital with a 99-year lease but not a one-year lease, for example.
According to County Judge Lane Carter, the primary public benefit of the coliseum remodel is economic development, not saving lives at a hospital. Therefore, the public benefit does not rise to the same level of public benefit that our county’s bond counsel believes will pass the attorney general’s review.
Little has been reported about the proposed structure of the agreement between the City of San Angelo and Tom Green County about the coliseum other than utilizing Memorandum of Understanding. That is, the City retained ownership of the property but ceded the management of the property via the MOU. There was also talk of a lease, or a lease from the rodeo association, and etc. Many angles were explored. County Treasurer Dianna Spieker doesn’t believe many options remain, especially since the deadline for the decision to place the coliseum renovation bond on the May 24 City Election is February 14.
“The Coliseum receiving a makeover is a good thing for the City of San Angelo, as it would enhance the experience of Rodeo Season. I commend the Rodeo Association on their efforts and hope the City of San Angelo considers letting the voters decide whether the City should issue a bond. Tom Green County was willing to explore the options available if it was allowed by law, and the people voted to support the bond. The State Attorney General, per our Bond Counsel, has said no, Tom Green County cannot issue the bond, regardless if the people support the ideal,” Spieker said.
There is no mention of the coliseum deal on the City of San Angelo Council meeting to be held tomorrow, either. The City Council presumably would have to approve a deal with the county in order for the county to prepare a bond package prior to the Feb. 14 deadline.