Plan to purchase AT&T building causes conflict in Beaumont Council meeting

    AT&T Building.jpg

    Developing at this hour, the City of Beaumont is pursuing the purchase of the ATT&T building downtown, despite strong opposition from angry citizens who showed up at city hall today.

    Those taxpayers say there are wiser ways the council should be spending their money.

    The fight over the building has been going on for a while, since last summer when the city council approved offering the building's owners $1 million.

    That offer was denied, and now the owners want to auction it off. That's what led to the conflict at city hall today.

    A packed house at Beaumont City Council Tuesday afternoon. Angry citizens upset their city leaders wanted to spend their money on an online auction to bid for the former ATT&T building.

    Among those frustrated taxpayers, James Eller, who is a rookie to addressing council, but did not hesitate taking the podium on this issue.

    "I'm tired of seeing the ridiculousness of this city council spending our money, our money not just y'all's because y'all live here, it's our money and we outnumber y'all," said concerned citizen James Eller. "We're telling y'all today we don't want this, we want you to leave this project alone and stop floating our money around for y'all's personal projects."

    One after another, 16 citizens voicing their opposition, only one speaking in favor of the city tapping into their pocketbooks.

    "You're doing a good job and I think you'll make the right decision," said Tom Bell.

    Instead of spending money on what many in attendance consider a boondoggle, these taxpayers say the city needs to prioritize and get back to the basics.

    "If there is so much determination and drive to heavily invest taxpayer funds for a project that stinks or crappy, I invite you to my home in the next rainstorm," said Rashell Bridle.

    The concerned citizens say the focus should be on streets and drainage.

    "How can we in good conscience as citizens approve something that's going to take funds away from the immediate need to repair the sewer and water system in multiple parts of the city," said Mark Faggard.

    One citizen implying the wrong decision could cost council members votes and perhaps their jobs in May.

    "Just know that as a voter, I will know based on today's vote, what I should know for the next election," said Nathan Cross.

    But that did not change any minds. In a 6 to 1 vote, council members gave the city manager the go-ahead to take part in the auction for the old ATT&T building.

    The only vote against belonged to Councilman Mike Getz.

    "I do not think it is appropriate for the City of Beaumont to speculate with taxpayer dollars like that," said Getz.

    But council members who want to buy the building and demolish it say it offers the city its first opportunity in decades to get access to the Neches River and to start preparing the riverfront for economic development.

    "It is an opportunity to finally get to the river, which I can't believe a community of this size has not been able to do in its 180 year history," said Councilwoman Virginia Jordan.

    As for the opposition that showed up here, Mayor Becky Ames said they don't represent the views of the entire city, basically calling them plants for Getz.

    "If you look at the people who talked today, Councilman Getz did ask for a show of hands of the people who were here that were against this because he asked them to come," said Mayor Ames.

    Councilman Getz says there's a private company interested in the building for its corporate headquarters that would employ 100 people.

    City Manager Kyle Hayes expressed skepticism.

    "I know you've been out there trying to get people to make offers against $1 million, and I was contacted by at least four people that said you contacted them requesting they do that, so no sir, but no one contacted me saying they wanted to move their corporate headquarters to that building, or the person who did call me said these 100 jobs you reference are already here." said Hayes. "It's not like they're going to add 100 jobs."

    Hayes says the council has put a cap on how much to bid on the building.

    When I asked him how much, he told me he could not tell me because it's private information.

    Councilman Getz, however, estimates the purchase and demolition of the building could cost $3 to 4 to four million dollars for property he says is valued at $450,000.

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