San Marcos City Council moves forward with economic incentive for film studio project
The City of San Marcos will give a tax break to a company that’s planning to build a massive film production studio in San Marcos.
San Marcos City Council approved the deal at a meeting Tuesday night. The 6-1 vote came after many community members expressed concern about the studio's proposed location on a chunk of the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone.
The 820,000-square-foot film studio, to be located at 6202 W. Centerpoint Road, is a project spearheaded by Hill Country Studios, a production company founded in 2020. The company describes it as a “cutting-edge facility,” with sound stages, backlots and space for production offices.
The city estimates it will return $4.6 million in property taxes to the company over a five-year period. The kickbacks would go into effect starting in 2025, when the project is scheduled for completion.
City staff acknowledged the flood of emails, questions and concerns they received about the project in the days leading up to the meeting. Council Member Mark Gleason said he's never received “this many emails on any one subject as long as I've been involved in government here.”
Some members of the community fear the development could put a strain on the recharge zone, which absorbs rainwater and replenishes the aquifer below. The Edwards Aquifer is the source of the San Marcos Springs, which feed the San Marcos River.
Proponents of the studio project point to its economic benefits and its potential to provide educational opportunities to local students. Several council members said the studio would be a good way to diversify the local economy with a more creative industry.
"We've seen tremendous growth in manufacturing jobs and distribution jobs," Council Member Jude Prather said. "But what we're not seeing is jobs in creative industries like film and TV. This film production studio, I think, is a testament to the creative culture we have here in San Marcos."
Virginia Parker, executive director of the San Marcos River Foundation, urged council members to require the developer to use conservation-minded development methods, like permeable pavers. Using the porous materials for sidewalks and courtyards would allow rainwater to flow through the ground and into the aquifer, reducing the studio's footprint on the recharge zone.
Those mandates were not ultimately put in the agreement. An engineer associated with the project couldn’t confirm the use of such materials, but pointed to plans for stormwater treatment ponds and rainwater harvesting to irrigate the landscape.
Gleason, who voted in favor of the agreement, said the studio is a unique opportunity for San Marcos.
“We have the chance to really bring something unique to San Marcos,” Gleason said. “And there is no way that I would support this if I thought this was going to have a real big detrimental impact on the aquifer.”
Council Member Maxfield Baker, who voted against the deal, tried to pass several amendments to the economic development agreement. One amendment asked the company to update their non-discrimination policy to include age, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Another asked the company to establish an internship program by their second year of operation. None of his motions to amend the agreement passed with a majority vote.
Construction on the project will start in April 2023.