I do not believe in tearing people down or talking negatively about anyone. I cannot in good conscience, however, let what happened the morning of March 28 go unquestioned.
I was at the Fort Bend Chamber of Commerce for a breakfast presentation on the Grid development at the old Texas Instruments site in Stafford. I thought the presentation was excellent and I’m very excited about what is being built across the ditch from our office on Bluebonnet Drive. Brian Murphy of StreetLevel Investments gave a very energizing presentation about the 192-acre mixed-use development.
Unfortunately, right after Murphy’s presentation, Stafford Mayor Leonard Scarcella stood up and took a proverbial crap all over it. It was rude, unnecessary, and very embarrassing.
“I commend the Grid and Streetlevel for doing this project in Stafford. I want to say unequivocally, we want it to be a success, but I will tell you we have reservations,” he said.
Let’s examine that a minute. In one breath he is saying he wants it to succeed but he doubts it. Don’t be mistaken by his use of the word “we.” He is speaking for himself and not the city council. From everything I’ve read and heard, the rest of the council has been behind the project from the start. Scarcella has been the main naysayer.
Stating that “the Grid was behind schedule and it was over budget,” Scarcella went on to express his doubts that the project could be completed on time and implied financial ruin for the city as a result.
“The simple fact of it is we have a 10-year contract with Streetlevel that took a long time to negotiate. It was signed on April 11 of last year. The problem with it is it simply has a schedule in it that is unobtainable. It basically said they would develop basically all of this you’ve seen up there within three years and be completed by the end of 2021… It won’t work and I’ve tried to tell everyone that it won’t work and now it’s coming clear that it won’t. It’s a 10-year contract. It’s not something that’s going to be done in three years, it’s going to take the full 10 years,” he said.
On this point Scarcella is partly correct. It’s going to take longer than three years to complete. There is no way, barring the unforeseen, that the project will take the full 10 years to complete. My office is across a ditch from Grid and in the last year I’ve been watching it grow at a phenomenal pace. The delays that have the project behind schedule are related to the weather, which no one can control, and to Scarcella himself. To his credit he helped negotiate a public-private agreement between the city and StreetLevel that is very much in the city’s favor. The length of those negotiations, however, cost the developer valuable time.
At the chamber presentation, Scarcella went on a five-minute rant that referenced Amazon’s HQ2 debacle in New York City (whatever that has to do with Stafford) and was critical of the types of jobs Grid would bring.
“I don’t think you’re going to see a lot of $150,000 jobs in this one,” he said. “Fortunately, Stafford doesn’t have to be concerned about that. Stafford has 50 percent more people working in Stafford than it does living there. We have about 18,000 people living in Stafford and we have over 30,000 people working in Stafford,” he said. “We’re not trying to generate jobs necessarily but most of the jobs with what you’ve just witnessed are not high-paying jobs.”
Maybe the jobs in general won’t be high-paying jobs, but Scarcella doesn’t know that for a fact. What the development will bring is sales tax, which Stafford thrives on since it does not have a property tax. Since Stafford is not funded by an income tax, this is really a moot point. Having thriving businesses on a large unproductive tract of land is what really matters and Scarcella knows this, or at least he should.
The next point he made was just juvenile and mindboggling.
“You’re going to have within a two-tenths of a square mile area enough residents to control the entire election process of Stafford. You’re going to have 5,000 people added to 18,000 and those will virtually be all voters,” he said.
So what? What does that have to do with anything? All of those new residents are going to be apartment dwellers. By their very nature, people who live in apartment tend to be transient and have no vested interest in their community and therefore have low voting records. That will make their impact minimal at best. What if all 5,000 residents did vote? As long as they’re registered voters, it would be their right. You can’t exclude your citizenry from voting just because of where they live within your city. If you’re not providing the services they need or are being responsive to their concerns, then they have every reasonable right to vote you out of office.
Scarcella also poo-pooed StreetLevel’s claim of Grid making Stafford a point of destination. In his mind a point of destination is a major resort city. He is correct in his belief that Grid will not make Stafford a resort town. He also demonstrates ignorance of what a destination point is. It is a place that attracts visitors. Grid will do that. With many restaurants, retail shops, a movie theater, hotels, and the Drive Shack golf and entertainment center, it will be a local point of destination. This compares to a bedroom community that lacks those amenities where people live but don’t visit.
“That property as shown here is one of the most iconic properties in the entire Houston region without exception,” Scarcella said. “And it is that 192 acres that is six times the size of Town Square in Sugar Land and eight times the size of Center City in Houston.”
Maybe I’m missing something because I’m still fairly new here, but I’ve never heard anyone call the former Texas Instruments site iconic before. Iconic to me means it has outstanding natural features or world-class development. The Texas Instruments facility was not iconic and there is nothing extraordinary about the property other than its great location.
“It is imperative that this development succeed but it’s got a long way to go. It will never meet the expectations and they’re the ones that raised the bar. They’ll never make those expectations,” Scarcella said.
Wow, really? What a tremendous vote of confidence for the biggest and most important project to come to Stafford since the creation of the municipal school district and the elimination of property taxes. If Scarcella truly wants this project to succeed he should be its biggest cheerleader, not its biggest detractor.
I don’t know what his motivation is for dogging the development this way, but I found it to be totally unnecessary and extremely rude. His words don’t sound to me like someone who has his city’s best interests at heart but rather that of someone with a different agenda in mind.
Like I said, I don’t like speaking negatively about Mayor Scarcella. I generally find him to be a decent, respectable man. This, however, was very unbecoming of someone in his position and deserves to be called out.
Last week I wrote about the re-enactments of the Texas Revolution. Due to the ITC fire in Deer Park, the San Jacinto Battleground remains closed. As a result, the festival and re-enactment scheduled there on April 13 has been cancelled. The Runaway Scrape re-enactment at George Ranch Historical Park is still on this Saturday, April 6, and everyone is invited to attend.