Tim Crowley is planning a new development just west of Marfa, on his property that includes the Stardust Motel sign. (Cody Austin via Flickr)
The Presidio County Commissioners Court, meeting in Presidio last Wednesday, approved a request by Tim Crowley to serve alcohol seven days a week until 2am on one of his properties.
The location was listed as 18426 US Highway 90, outside the Marfa city limit just west of town. The property is defined by the iconic neon Stardust Marfa sign, where the former Stardust Motel stood before being razed some years ago.
Late hours are not permitted within Marfa city limits – midnight on weekdays and Sunday and 1am on Saturdays – but can be approved on a case-by-case basis for land in unincorporated parts of Presidio County.
The county has previously approved late hours for Cibolo Creek Ranch, and denied them for El Cosmico.
Holding the hearing in Presidio
Prior to the agenda item’s approval, Commissioner Brenda Bentley motioned “to table the item and bring it back to the next meeting in Marfa, so that people have a chance to say their peace,” rather than the court voting on it at a Presidio meeting 60 miles away, when the public had not been informed of the issue.
Crowley had taken Commissioner Bentley on a tour of the vacant lot earlier in the day, and she expressed her reservations along with her enthusiasm at the court meeting. “I am not in favor of late night hours because it prolongs the party and late night drinking.” But she added, “I went out and saw his vision. I think I had a change of heart. If this is explained in front of the local public in Marfa who is directly affected somewhat, and if they listen to what he has to say about it, I feel that they would feel better about it.”
Commissioner Bentley added that, for Crowley, receiving the late hours for alcohol sales was, “a make or break deal.”
In response to the idea of facing a public meeting in Marfa, Crowley stated, “This is what the consumer wants. I don’t know if I’m up to the public beat up. If the Hotel [Saint George] had a hearing about neighbor’s public input, it would’ve never been built. It would’ve been a miserable experience for me.” Crowley added that if another of his projects, a potential hotel development in the city of Presidio, is brought before the public, the experience would likely be the same.
Returning to the idea of facing a Commissioners meeting in Marfa, he told the Court, “With all respect, I may decline if you push that way.”
Crowley said later that the judge let him choose the meeting date that best fit his schedule, but he didn’t know that the meeting was to be held in Presidio.
Weighing in, Commissioner Buddy Knight said, “First, it’s a great location. The one thing we have to understand in Marfa—I’m not sure we need to put it in front of these people.” Commissioner Knight described that Marfa is “not a cow town, it’s not a ranching community. We are a tourist community,” continuing, “The only way to collect more taxes is through new construction. So, we will also collect off an alcohol tax. The county will get a little bit of it. If we don’t put this forward, or look at it hard, we’re cutting our own throats. We are a tourist town now, and if we don’t get more and better things we won’t survive in the long run.”
Commissioner Bentley’s motion to table the item until a Marfa meeting failed for lack of a second.
The project plans
Crowley outlined his plans for his Stardust property to the Commissioners, saying the concept is to “build some type of reception place there. It has one thing that looks kind of like a chapel, and then it has a shade structure. And then a building with a bar, restaurant, cooking facilities. Ultimately, I’ve got enough space there that you could build another whole complex.”
“I know what the visitors are requesting now,” he said. “They want the landscaping and to stay up slightly later.” He explained that for weddings especially, guests do not want the party to start until sundown, so “you’ve got from 10 til 11:45” to drink, which “is hard for receptions.”
County airport director Chase Snodgrass spoke up in support of the project to add that, “at the airports, weddings are huge. Those are our biggest weekends. When I start hearing about a wedding chapel, wedding receptions—that’s more traffic.”
During the meeting, Crowley stated, “I think it’ll attract not only weddings, but events, conferences, yoga retreats. The only place I’ll pat myself on the back—our employees represent Presidio County. We’re not hiring skinny boys with French degrees. It’s been good for the employee base in Mar-fa.”
Previous businesses requesting late night hours
The Commissioner’s Court has heard similar requests in the past from establishments like Cibolo Creek Ranch, and in 2016, El Cosmico. Cibolo has enjoyed serving late hours alcohol for over a decade. They were granted late hours by the county because the ranch is remote, so noise isn’t an issue, and those who drink there are likely to be spending the night, rather than driving elsewhere. But El Cosmico was unanimously denied the same request for extended hours in 2016. At the time, County Judge Cinderela Guevara stated she believed the potential extended hours at El Cosmico posed a danger because of its proximity to highway 67, a similar condition to the 18426 US Highway 90 location. Conversely, she asserted that “Cibolo Creek Ranch is more or less a private resort, and usually people who drink there do not leave the ranch.”
As the conversation continued, Commissioner Jose Cabezuela said he would rather have tourists drinking at Crowley’s coming establishment than at Cibolo Creek because tourists would be “causing accidents driving back” to Marfa from the ranch. Crowley said “a hotel out there [the Stardust] could be a 10 million dollar investment” and that he ultimately thinks, “it’s the perfect spot to do a different hotel concept. Long term it has the potential of being a much bigger thing.”
Though there is potential to add a hotel, that is not in the project’s first phase, so visitors drinking until 2am would then need to drive or arrange for rides from the western side of the city limits across town to residences or hotels available in Marfa city limits or beyond.
County Attorney Rod Ponton informed the commissioners that he checked with Sheriff Danny Dominguez and late night deputy Mitch Garcia, “and they didn’t have issues with it. Mitch would be the one enforcing it.”
Contacted Tuesday morning, Sheriff Danny Dominguez said he was contacted by County Attorney Ponton, but doesn’t recall his comments to Ponton.
He added, “I talked to Crowley, and told him I don’t agree with it, I don’t condone it, but if the law permits you to have one, you do what you have to do.”
He also said that the people born and raised in Marfa should have been given the courtesy of asking questions and expressing their views on this issue.
In 2016 Sheriff Dominguez spoke strongly against El Cosmico extending to late hours because it “would add a strain to his department,” explaining that it “doesn’t sit right” with him.
Commissioner Cabezuela motioned to approve the late hours request, and Commissioner Knight seconded. Commissioners Aranda, Cabezuela, Knight, and Judge Guevara approved the measure, with Commissioner Bentley dissenting.
Crowley assured the Commissioners, “I promise you’ll be proud.” He said, “If I didn’t think it was good for the community, I wouldn’t do it. I don’t need the headache.”
While the county granted the late hours provision, Crowley still must apply to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission for a beer, wine, and liquor on-premise license.
The Presidio County Commissioner’s Court is set to convene again at 9:30am on Wednesday, February 6 in Marfa.