Sugar Land didn’t have to re-invent the wheel, they just refined it.
When I drive down U.S. 90-A, it’s easy to have an appreciation for Sugar Land’s history.
The company town grew into a small incorporated city in 1959, and has blossomed into one of Houston’s – and America’s – best suburbs.
But the best thing about the former Imperial Sugar property is that public (City of Sugar Land) and private (Johnson Development) entities worked together for the best interest of the community.
Perhaps our friends to the north in Houston/Harris County can take some lessons from the effort and quit dragging their feet on the future purpose of the Astrodome.
By spring 2017, Imperial Market in Sugar Land will have nearly 270,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space.
Alamo Drafthouse, a popular theater chain that combines movies and dining, will be a big part of the development, and the names of other prominent, high-end store are soon to be revealed.
A 91-year-old Charhouse that’s been sitting idle for more than a decade will become the 120-room Aloft Hotel. Don’t be surprised if out-of-town visitors – and even Fort Bend residents – fill it up on a regular basis.
But the best part of the development is the fact that it won’t simply be another generic shopping center.
And that didn’t happen automatically.
Dennis Parmer, director of the Sugar Land Heritage Foundation, was a Sugar Land city council member from 2003-09 who was instrumental in seeing that the development maintained its character.
Some Sugar Land residents were hesitant to see history go by the wayside, after the Palms Theater – where many local folks had seen their first motion picture – was knocked down during the 1990s.
Imperial Sugar stopped operating the facilities in 2003, and four years later, citizens decided that any developer must maintain three iconic features of the old sugar plant – the water tower, charhouse and the refinery itself.
Sugar Land leaders wanted to keep the historic aspects intact, but didn’t want to over-burden a developer with demands of keeping a large number of things.
Luckily, Shay Shafie, Johnson Development’s General Manager of the Imperial Market project, has gone above and beyond in the preservation aspect.
Shafie, a former University of Texas football player, knows a thing or two about preserving tradition.
He wasn’t required to include several other aspects of the current property into the new one, but he saw the benefit of it for the citizens and future customers of the property.
Perhaps even more importantly than the preservation of the structures is the placement of two museums, and the popular Imperial Farmers Market, which takes place every Saturday morning.
The Children’s Discovery Center – a branch of Houston’s Children’s Museum – will only increase Sugar Land’s reputation as a family-friendly community.
And the Sugar Land Heritage Foundation, which is temporarily housed on the development, will move into a new building as part of the mixed-use development.
History buffs can check out the museum and learn the difference between milling and refining sugar.
They can hear Parmer tell the story of Sugar Land’s history. Even though the 1959 incorporation gives Sugar Land a “new” feel, the area was first settled by Stephen F. Austin’s Old 300 in the early 19th Century – hence the reason why nearly 250 years later, developer Gerald Hines named his new development, “First Colony.”
Parmer grew up in Mississippi and like many others, he came to the Houston area to work in the Oil & Gas Industry.
But history is what makes him want to wake up every morning, and there’s nothing more exciting than seeing the past blend with the future in perfect harmony.
“Imperial Market will have tremendous character to it,” Parmer said. “It’s big for the north part of Sugar Land, but it’s much bigger than that.”