Although it may sound like another verse same as the first to many, New Era and Cleburne officials called for patience and continued support for the Cleburne Station project.
New Era Supervisor Dan Rogers presented a progress update during Tuesdays Cleburne City Council meeting. Rogers logged decades of economic development experience before joining on with New Era.
Cleburne voters in 2015 approved a $25 million bond to purchase land near the city’s U.S. 67 and Chisholm Trail Parkway entrance. Bond funds also went toward construction of The Depot, a city owned baseball and event stadium. Plans call for creation of a retail/restaurant complex surrounding The Depot. The city sold the surrounding land to New Era, who is charged with building the complex and attracting retail. Although The Depot’s home team, the Cleburne Railroaders, are now in there third season the surrounding land remains vacant.
The hope from the project’s beginning was and remains to bring quality retail, restaurant and entertainment options for residents and tourists and to stem the flow of sales tax dollars to Fort Worth and Burleson, Mayor Scott Cain said.
“One thing I’ve learned is that economic development is a marathon, not a sprint,” Rogers said. “The most simple project can take months, if not years to complete. We waited several years for hotels to be built in San Marcos because of environmental issues. In Boerne they’re still trying to convince retail that they’re a hub of numerous cities. Does that sound familiar?”
Over the past several years New Era and city officials have reached out to retailers and attended retailer conventions to promote Cleburne Station, Rogers said. He said the challenges of the internet versus brick and mortar shopping dynamic and herd instinct remain.
“Retail clusters together and nobody wants to be first,” Roberts said. “So it’s very important that we all work together and try to bring individual groups in.”
That said, infrastructure is in place or in progress and several retail establishments, hotels and office groups have expressed interest in Cleburne Station. Cain added that negotiations continue behind the scenes with several retailers none of whom can be publicly announced yet.
“The most important thing about economic development I’ve found is the importance of not losing faith in the project,” Rogers said. “Look around, not just in Cleburne. Projects take time. Things change, business models change. But what won the vote in 2015 is a win for the better. It’s just going to take time. So be positive and support the project 100 percent. It’s not just the developer; it’s the entire city working together.”
Councilman Mike Mann asked Rogers what’s changed at the site now versus two years ago. The installation of infrastructure, Rogers answered, from electrical to internet to drainage and more.
Councilman Chris Boedeker asked what residents can expect to see on the ground by year’s end.
“More infrastructure going in,” Rogers said. “We hope not far in the future to see pad sites going in and buildings should be coming out of the ground by the end of the year. The No. 1 thing I think everyone has been waiting for, talking about, has been the large sign. It’s funded and we start it in the next six weeks.”
Cain on Wednesday said he understands the community’s frustration with perceived lack of progress, but again called for patience.
“From what I heard last night we’re getting movement out there so I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re getting off dead center,” Cain said. “I want to see things going vertical out there as much as anybody, but it’s important we do this right and work to attract the right kind of retail and restaurants. These things take time.
“But once it’s built I think everyone’s going to forget that it took a little longer than expected. I can’t imagine New Era is going to invest millions of their own money just to do nothing or have empty buildings out there.”
It’s a sign
Council members authorized City Manager Steve Polasek to enter into a 10-year lease at $10,000 per with Cleburne Station Investments.
Construction of a 40-foot monument sign at Cleburne Station should complete by August’s end, the tower to include a 16 feet by 11 feet LED sign. New Era paid for the monument signs, which costs about $500,000. The $100,000 lease buys the city 12 hours of advertising per day on the LED screen for events such as Pioneer Days, Whistle Stop Christmas, the city’s museums and more, Polasek said.
Funding for the lease derives from the city’s hotel occupancy tax.
Mann questioned the value of the cost and voted against the lease.
Boedeker voted for the lease but questioned whether the ads will be produced in house. Polasek said they will.
“I wanted to make sure we’re not getting into the cost of paying for outside people,” Boedeker said.
Cain said the tower sign will make a big impact.
“This is one of our main corridors to the front door of Cleburne,” Cain said. “We need to get it right unlike what we did with North Main Street. People have said they want to see it done right and first class for a change.”
Who you gonna call?
Tensions mounted during the citizen’s comment section of the meeting.
Herb Cohen, who lives in the city’s extra territorial jurisdiction, said he’s bound by certain city regulations yet receives no representation from the city.
Cohen said he’s waiting for a signature release on a drainage permit for his property to no avail.
“I cannot get a phone call returned from anybody in the city or [Cain’s] office,” Cohen said. “I would like to get my property where I can do something with it. I fell like I have representation and yet I’m regulated by the council.”
Cohen said he plans to take the matter to the state Legislature and attorneys.
“I shouldn’t be required to jump the hoops and hurdles with people that won’t even talk to me,” Cohen said.
Cohen requested that the issue be placed on a future council agenda or that he be granted a meeting.
Cain asked Cohen if there was anything else at that point to which Cohen replied he would like someone from the city to at least say they’d meet with him.
“Sir, this is a citizen’s comment period,” Cain said. “Council cannot interact with you. So if you have anything else to add now is your time.”
Cohen replied that he plans to take the situation to the public and the media.
City Attorney Fritz Quast at that point said that, given that Cohen has threatened legal action against the city, he’s instructed city staff to direct any further comments from Cohen his way. Quast handed Cohen his business card and Cohen told Quast he will be in contact.
“Thank you sir and just so the record is clear your time is expired,” Cain said at that point. “I have not received phone calls at my office from Mr. Cohen. My staff does a very diligent job of tracking those.”
Cohen began to respond.
“Sir, sir you’re time is up,” Cain said. “You’re interrupting. Your time is up. You need to leave council or sit down and be quiet.”
Cohen exited council chambers at that point.
“I’m leaving, but you’re a liar, a big liar,” Cohen said.
Cain again accused Cohen of interrupting and causing a disruption.
“Just so the record’s very clear, my staff does an extremely good job of returning calls from citizens and anybody who calls they typically return calls within 24 hours,” Cain said. “ I want the record to reflect that my office did not receive any phone calls from Mr. Cohen.
“I double checked with all my staff. That’s all the time we’re going to give to that.”