A chance for Fort Bend County to think big
In the midst of an otherwise serious interview, I asked newly promoted Sugar Land director of economic development Jennifer May an outside-the-box question.
How did the country music group, Sugarland (one word), impact the city of Sugar Land?
“I don’t think it has a discernable impact, but they’ve performed here twice, and it’s fun that they have our name,” May said.
But regardless of the impact of a popular band’s name, let’s take a look at something that could truly bring Sugar Land and Fort Bend County something that is discernable and substantial – a professional sports franchise.
It creates jobs and goodwill for the community.
Let’s add 18 more business parks, but reserve the 19th one for a large sports arena that could double as a place that the community could use for prep sports and local events.
After Houston lost the minor league hockey Aeros, I took a drive to watch the next closest minor league hockey team, the Texas Stars, in suburban Austin. The Stars play in a 6,000 seat arena with loud, energetic fans.
Initially, I thought that would be something cool for this area.
On second thought, I realized, we should aim higher and try to bring NHL franchise, rather than a minor league affiliate, to town.
It’s time to think big.
On the surface, humidity and hockey don’t mix, but Fort Bend County is the most diverse county in the U.S. with plenty of transplants from northern states.
Northerner transplants in Austin and San Antonio would drive here, stay in a hotel and spend money when their beloved Bruins and Red Wings come to town.
An NHL ticket is usually the priciest of all the professional sports, so the league would be crazy not to want to come to a city/county where there’s disposable income and a well-educated population.
There’s also a strong (and rapidly growing) corporate base in Sugar Land that far exceeds some cities that host NHL franchises.
A Canadian newspaper reported that the Ottawa Senators have brought $3 billion to the local economy over the past 22 years.
If we get even half of that economic impact, it would be worth it.
This would be a great way to distinguish Sugar Land from Houston, while still adding something to the Greater Houston area.
It would also boost Sugar Land in its growth race with its natural economic rival to the north, The Woodlands.
Yes, the official name of the metropolitan area is Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, but you rarely hear H-S-B, the way Dallas-Fort Worth rolls off the tongue.
A pro sports team would make Sugar Land comparable to the Anaheim of Los Angeles, or the Brooklyn of New York, in terms of recognition.
Only 13 American cities have all four professional sports franchises, and Greater Houston deserves to be in that company.
Apparently, Houston Rockets owner Les Alexander is the only person who would be allowed to own an NHL franchise in the Toyota Center. And that doesn’t look like it’ll happen.
Houston Texans owner Bob McNair once pursued an NHL franchise before his bid to own the Texans was awarded, but a Texans spokesperson said McNair isn’t interested in owning a second franchise at this time.
With the boom of the Oil & Gas industry, there are multiple billionaires in the metro area.
The problem, historically, has been that billionaires have pursued their franchises and stadiums, while leaving the rest of us with the bill.
Nobody wants to see that, including the most dedicated of Houston area sports fans, so we must get creative.
Perhaps, collaboration between cities/counties or public/private partnerships would be an option.
It would be rare, but perhaps the owner or ownership group could follow the example of New England Patriots Bob Kraft, who privately financed Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
And speaking of Foxborough (population, 16,865), you’ve heard of it because the Patriots play there, even though it has 67,000 fewer residents and far less corporate growth than Sugar Land.
We’re on the right track with Constellation Field and the Performing Arts Center, but a pro sports franchise may be the cherry on top.
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