Top Hays Free Press Business Stories of 2017

Pollo Tropical closes all Texas locations

Less than a year after opening in Kyle and San Marcos, the parent company that owns the Pollo Tropical brand shuttered the two locations in April 2017 before closing all locations statewide in September.

The move came after the Fiesta Restaurant Group, Inc. earlier announced the closure of 28 other restaurants in Austin, north Texas and Nashville, Tenn.

FRGI, which is the parent company of Pollo Tropical and Taco Cabana, had originally announced plans to revamp the Pollo Tropical brand and reopen in September 2017. However, after Hurricane Harvey damaged much of the Texas coast, Fiesta announced in September that it would be pulling out of the Texas market altogether. According to a statement, “The decision to close these restaurants was due to ongoing uncertainty in South Texas, including the effects of Hurricane Harvey and limited awareness of the Pollo Tropical brand.”

According to a release, preliminary first quarter 2017 sales results, which ended April 2, showed a 6.7 drop in restaurant sales at Pollo Tropical and a 4.5 percent drop at Taco Cabana.

Industrywide headwinds, prevalent in Florida and Texas, along with the impact of sales cannibalization, continued to negatively impact performance, the release said.

Local racetrack shuts its doors

While working as a photographer at what was Thunderhill Raceway in Kyle six years ago, Kyle resident Sean Folsom grew tired of seeing his race car driver friends have all of the fun on the track. He began to regularly compete at the venue, later known as Central Texas Speedway (CTS).

But Folsom and many others were shocked when CTS officials announced they were shuttering the track, raising a red flag on one of the last short-track asphalt speedways in Texas.

CTS’s demise began when Tim Self, the previous leaseholder, and his company, AM Racing, chose not to renew for 2017, said Rick Coleman, who owns the property CTS was located on.

Coleman said Self came to him and gave up his lease 15 months before it expired. Once Self chose to not renew, Coleman said he didn’t seek another suitor, as he feared the liability a racetrack presented.

“I didn’t care to have it. I didn’t want the liability of something happening to someone on the track and I was liable for them,” Coleman said. “CTS had insurance for that, but I didn’t want that problem.”

Coleman added that he would have allowed Self to run the track “for as long as he wanted to,” but Self was “tired of it” and was “moving on.”

Kyle resident and former racecar driver Christine Molis said the closure “hurts” as there are many local drivers who competed at CTS.

“There’s a lot from Kyle, Buda, the Manchaca area and Austin,” Molis said. “This is their home track. Now with it being gone, they have a car in the garage doing nothing.”

With CTS gone, drivers now must go elsewhere.

Folsom said the nearest tracks in the area, located in Pleasanton and Paige, are dirt tracks. Molis said dirt tracks are gaining popularity due to affordability. The nearest asphalt short-tracks that operate consistently are located in Louisiana, Alabama and Florida.

The loss of the speedway created an impact on Kyle as well. Julie Snyder, Kyle Chamber of Commerce CEO, said the speedway drew tourism due to the racing, as well as go-karts that were offered at the circult. The land was also used as a music venue for various festivals.

“Anytime we lose a business, it’s a loss for us. Not only services they provide, but the financials we receive,” Snyder said. “From a visitor’s side, it’s tough to lose an activity such as that, which was family oriented.”

European grocer eyes Kyle store

In June, a Kyle location of a German-based grocery chain was unanimously approved by Kyle planning and zoning commissioners.   However, a development timeline remains unclear.

Sheldon-Tanglewood, Ltd. requested the rezoning of 4.5 acres, located at the northwest corner of Marketplace Avenue and S. FM 1626 near the Kyle H-E-B, from multi-family residential to retail services.

According to the zoning change application, Sheldon-Tanglewood, Ltd., the owner of the property, is represented by Dunaway Associates.

According to a letter from Dan Caballero, project manager, Dunaway Associates is representing Lidl, a German-based international discount supermarket chain.

Rezoning the property to retail services for grocery store and retail use is more compatible with the proposed zoning than multi-family residential, Caballero stated in the letter.

In fall 2016, a Lidl spokesperson confirmed to The Dallas Morning News that the company was beginning to scout for sites in Texas.

Lidl spent more than $10 million on land purchases in North Texas and reportedly was scouting locations in the Dallas and Houston areas.

Baylor Scott and White opens in Kyle: Rumors continue of possible Buda hospital

Rapid growth along the I-35 corridor was a primary factor for a major medical employer to announce the arrival of a new clinic in Kyle earlier this year.

Baylor Scott & White Heath, which operates a system of 48 hospitals and has more than 44,000 employees, began construction in April on a 7,285 square-foot primary care clinic near the Plum Creek golf course. The facility was the first Baylor Scott & White clinic to open in Hays County.

“Making our debut in Hays County is a great milestone for Baylor Scott & White,” said Colleen Sundquist, Vice President of Clinic Operations at BS&W. “The clinic will allow us to serve more Central Texans, offering the community a new primary care clinic close to home.

BS&W’s new clinic  competes with several in-place area medical facilities, which include Austin Regional Clinic in Plum Creek and medical clinics at Seton Medical Center Hays.

At a May 16 Hays County Commissioners Court meeting, Pct. 2 Commissioner Mark Jones may have inadvertently let slip that Baylor Scott and White may fill a 35-acre area in the Sunfield Municipal Utility District that was rezoned for hospital use earlier this year.

The snafu took place when Jones and  Victor Vargas, TxDOT area engineer, were updating council on various road projects in northeastern Hays County. 

When describing improvements on FM 2001 from I-35 to Highway 21, Jones said the plan is to “start on both ends of I-35 and at 21, so we should be well ahead of Scott and White when they get ready to come.”

Jones added that he had met with representatives and “they are good with our schedule.”

In January, the Buda city council approved to rezone 35-acres in the Sunfield MUD for a possible medical center. City officials did not say which medical company planned to make a move for Buda.

Rumors have circulated online, however, regarding a possible move by Baylor Scott and White to bring a medical center to Buda. Baylor Scott and White has not made any public announcement of medical facilities in Buda.

“Often times, we hear rumors,” Buda Mayor Todd Ruge said. “Until a business or company puts forward a site plan to (the planning and zoning commission), it’s all speculation.”

Jones did not provide further comment to what was said May 16.

Developments spread to east Hays County

As a result of the population boom in Kyle, Buda and San Marcos, traditionally small farming towns in east Hays County could start to feel growing pains, too.

Towns such as Uhland, whose recent growth began in 2013 with the Cotton Gin Estates housing development, can expect its population to double or triple within the next five to ten years, according the city’s official website.

“It’s definitely accelerated,” said Richard Crandal, Niederwald city planner. “People move out here to avoid the city and the high prices that come with it.”

Crandal, a Mustang Ridge resident, has lived in the area for 23 years and observed how the rising populations of bigger cities have trickled into smaller towns like Niederwald and Uhland.

“There’re folks that have lived out here 20 or 30 years to escape the city, but it’s still chasing us down,” Crandal said.

Niederwald’s city council has recently approved five subdivisions with the largest adding 141 homes to the area; the smallest is only adding 12. More than 370 homes have sprung up in Niederwald in the last year.

In 2014, Walton Development, a Canadian-based land investment group, amassed land in the eastern part of Hays County and the western part of Caldwell County for a slew of proposed developments. 

One of those is Caldwell Valley, a proposed 3,600-plus acre mixed-use master planned development just outside of Uhland and Lockhart. According to a Caldwell Valley brochure on the city of Uhland’s website, the development could have neighborhood retail, office space, single-family residential units, as well as sites for schools and parks.

Camino Real, also a proposed Walton development, is a 1,700-plus acre development near Niederwald.

However, locals fear the history and identity of smaller towns may be in jeopardy.

“This is farewell to a small town,” said Michelle Hams, a 20-year resident of Niederwald.  “It’s such a rapidly growing community that the old part of Niederwald is gone.”

Despite the growing concern, the course for growth in the surrounding areas remains a constant.

In Kyle, Howard Koontz, community development director, said the city works to keep an eye on what’s happening in the eastern part of the county.

“To some extent we pay attention to it, we’re aware of it but we don’t plan for it,” said Howard Koontz, Kyle director of planning, ”We remain cognizant of the situation.”

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