On Tuesday night, the Denton City Council set the city on a dark path from which it may never recover. After hours of wrenching debate, the council voted 5-2 to give Buc-ee's Ltd. $8 million in tax incentives to build one of its beaver-themed convenience store-cum-amusement parks on a vacant plot of land along Interstate 35 near Brinker Road.
Do I hate Buc-ee's? I do not. Their bathrooms, in my limited experience, are indeed as spacious and clean as advertised. And if I recall correctly from the one time I tried them, Beaver Nuggets are tasty enough and have a satisfying crunch, like extra-puffy Corn Pops. Nor do I hold founder Arch "Beaver" Aplin's endorsement of Dan Patrick for lieutenant governor against them, as I am perfectly able to separate my personal politics from the places where I use the can. I fully accept that Buc-ee's has its place along Texas' sprawling network of highways.
It just doesn't seem like that place should be Denton.
Denton has a reputation for being cool. Thanks to the University of North Texas, it has the feel of a bona fide college town. It also has a vibrant music scene. And city officials there do wacky things, like wage amusingly quixotic PR campaigns to lure trendy hot sauce manufacturers and vote to ban fracking. It's like a smaller, flatter, less interesting version of Austin.
Having a Buc-ee's doesn't automatically make Denton less cool. Under the proper circumstances, Buc-ee's can fall right where the Venn diagram of kitsch and irony overlap to form a zone of hipster-cool. (This is also where you'll find ugly Christmas sweaters and bushy, '70s-style mustaches.) This is a place with a beaver mascot and so-bad-they're-good billboards that say things like "“The Top Two Reasons to Stop at Buc-ee’s: Number 1 and Number 2."
That said, if there's one thing guaranteed to push something from hipster-cool to un-ironic kitsch, it's effort, and Denton's $8 million subsidy represents an embarrassing amount of effort. Terrell, home to North Texas' first Buc-ee's, also offered tax incentives, but Terrell didn't have any cachet to lose. It's also worth realizing that Denton is getting the sloppy seconds of Corinth, its presumably inferior Denton County neighbor. Its City Council shot down a proposed Buc-ee's last year. Little wonder that the Chinese are snapping up real estate in Corinth over Denton.
It's too late to undo the tax-incentive deal. There'd probably be some legal wrangling, and it would almost certainly scare off other prospective businesses. But hopefully Denton leaders will learn from this embarrassment and try less hard in the future.
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