Sugar Land Sees a Dynamic Year Ahead
Mayor And City Manager Give Details In State Of The City Address
By Mara Soloway
While New Yorker magazine highlighted the City of Sugar Land’s Selfie statue as one of nine objects that defined 2016, the City itself was focused on its strategic planning, finances, economic development and other more useful aspects of governing. Other media appreciated these efforts, including MONEY magazine, which chose Sugar Land as the Best Place to Retire in its population category.
“Sugar Land is consistently recognized as a City that carefully plans for its future, and the coming year will be no exception,” Mayor Joe Zimmerman told the audience assembled at the State of the City address Jan. 19. “Because of our focus on preparation this past year, Sugar Land residents will be able to enjoy an impressive variety of new destination venues, as well as unprecedented growth in our community.”
Zimmerman shared the stage at Smart Financial Centre at Sugar Land with City Manager Allen Bogard. The Centre is the newest jewel in Sugar Land’s public-private partnership crown. As of January, more than 100 live entertainment acts had been booked, with more than 80,000 tickets sold.
Focusing on 2017, the mayor said the City will “expand our local economy, and support the high quality of life in Sugar Land that all of us in Sugar Land have come to expect.” Some of the highlights of the address are described here.
Zimmerman credits the City’s strategic planning efforts, including those with citizen input, that have led to the construction and opening of Constellation Field, home of the 2016 Atlantic League Champion Sugar Land Skeeters; the Festival Site; and the Smart Financial Centre at Sugar Land. The facilities are expected to have a big impact on Sugar Land’s economy and specifically on Sugar Land Regional Airport, future hotels, restaurants and small businesses.
The City will continue its economic development program that has given Sugar Land more than 64,600 jobs — a more than 41 percent increase in jobs since 2012, during which the City’s residential population increased by less than 4 percent.
Some of its largest employers are Fluor Corporation, Schlumberger, Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital, United Healthcare, Nalco Champion, Tramontina, First Data, Memorial Hermann and Noble Drilling. More jobs will result from ABM Industries’ relocation of its corporate shared services headquarters (approximately 390 jobs); Team Industrial Services Inc.’s expansion to include an additional 113 jobs; and Schlumberger’s continued consolidation of its U.S. headquarters to its existing campus that will reposition more than 500 additional jobs to new facilities located onsite.
The City partnered with private entities in creating the Smart Financial Centre and Constellation Field. In 2017 it will be working on other public-private partnerships,including developing an industrial business park and a hotel/conference center.
The industrial business park will be located on 259 acres of land that Sugar Land purchased from the General Land Office and will include the 142-acre business park, a 22-acre public safety training facility, and 95 acres for use by Sugar Land Regional Airport.
Based on the results of an independent feasibility study from 2014, the City is planning to have a future hotel/conference center with a 350-room hotel and up to 50,000 square feet of conference space. The tentative location of this facility is expected to be across from Smart Financial Centre on City land.
The Parks and Recreation Open Space Master Plan is currently being updated and will include Cullinan Park, which was recently annexed into Sugar Land city limits due to an agreement between the City of Houston, the City of Sugar Land, and the Cullinan Park Conservancy.
Voters approved funding for parks projects including Brazos River Park and hike and bike trails in 2013. About 60 percent of the projects are nearing completion.
The biggest focus for Sugar Land in 2017 will be the annexation of the master-planned communities of Greatwood and New Territory, which is a result of years of planning. This will increase the City’s population by 30,000 residents – from 87,000 to 117,000 – on Dec. 12, 2017.
“Implementation of this initiative will be the biggest operational challenge in the coming year as we work on the largest annexation in our history – but the City of Sugar Land is up to the challenge,” Bogard said. Much pre-planning has gone into the annexation. The City adopted a pre-annexation budget to fund preparations, including careful planning for the necessary financing and the hiring, training and equipping of police officers.
The annexation will necessitate the construction of a new Municipal Court building on the site of the current Police and Courts building, creating more space in the existing building for the Police Department. Public Safety Dispatch and the Emergency Operations Center will also be housed in a new facility on the same site, also creating more room for police. A new Animal Shelter will be constructed adjacent to the Police and Courts facilities.
The fiscal year 2017 budget totals almost $260 million in all funds including Capital Improvement Projects of $73 million.
As noted from its many financial accolades, the City plans its finances carefully. It has learned the challenges of being highly dependent on sales tax and thus has developed policy and protocol in prepartion for potential slowdowns.
“This is particularly important for critical general fund expenditures such as police and fire department expenses, which constitute nearly 50 percent of general fund expenses,” Bogard said.
Capital Improvement Program
In 2017 the largest piece of the capital improvement program pie – $27 million – will be invested in street improvements.
Williams Trace Boulevard will be reconstructed between State Highway 6 and Austin Parkway beginning early 2017; it will take about 15 months to
complete. The project will include complete pavement replacement and additional storm sewer infrastructure to correct drainage deficiencies. A 10-foot-wide pedestrian and bicycle path will be added along the roadway’s east side.
The extension of University Boulevard across U.S. 90A into the Imperial development is another multi-year project. The roadway name will switch at U.S. 90A from University to South Stadium. This roadway is specifically important for the expansion of Nalco-Champion’s employment.
Other capital projects will improve drainage, including those for Covington Woods, The Highlands and Sugar Creek subdivisions.
“Sugar Land citizens enjoy a close relationship with the men and women of our police, fire and EMS. We especially appreciate the support we enjoy from many of our businesses,” the mayor said.
A donation by the Houston Federal Credit Union helps provide ballistic vests for patrol officers and detectives. Funding has been approved for Self Contained Breathing Apparatuses for firefighters.
Later this year the City will open the Sugar Land Heritage Museum and Visitor Center in the Container Warehouse portion of the the Imperial Sugar Company Complex. This facility will be part of mixed-use retail complex known as Imperial Market, which will incorporate many of the original buildings on the industrial site.
The volunteer organization Sugar Land Legacy Foundation supports acquisition and development of parks and civic facilities throughout Sugar Land. It will be pursuing three new projects throughout 2017:
- a pavilion in Smart Financial Centre Plaza, which could accommodate future potential outdoor performances,
- the installation of two sculptures at Sugar Land Memorial Park and
- a “Sugar Land Timeline Exhibit” located within the Sugar Land Heritage Museum.
“Sugar Land may be growing, but we still celebrate a diverse, close-knit community with a dedication to preserving an unmatched quality of life,” Mayor Zimmerman said.