By Joe Southern
So it is with the passing of another year that we reflect on the tumultuous times that made up 2016.
To be sure, not all the things that made news were bad. Some were good – very good! With that being said, below are the Top 10 stories of 2016 as seen through the eyes of The Fort Bend Star:
In recognition of November as National Adoption Month, a Missouri City mother, Kasey Eaglin, and her husband, Matt, shared their story of adopting a son. Although the adoption won’t take place until this spring, their future son is already living with them through the foster care system. Their decision to adopt has a profound, positive impact not only on the child, but on their family and community as well.
This story, although it may seem fairly benign, is one that needs to be told. There are far too many children in need of a forever home. Although the Eaglin’s admit the process is long, arduous and expensive, it is worth it. Any time a child can be welcomed into a family it is worth the price and sacrifice.
Opened in May, the Fort Bend Children’s Discovery Center is a branch of the Children’s Museum of Houston. It is located on the first floor of what was the packaging warehouse for Imperial Sugar. Now called Imperial Market, the museum is part of the redevelopment of the historic sugar mill being done by Johnson Development. The center has six galleries geared toward children from birth to 12 years.
The 12,500-square-foot space is part of a $4 million project. The centerpiece is Kidtropolis, a tot-sized city that features real Fort Bend County businesses.
Texas State Technical College opened the first building on its new campus in Rosenberg this year and enrolled its first students for the fall semester. The 126,000-square-foot TSTC Industrial Technology Center houses state-of-the-art labs and classrooms for the more than 250 students enrolled. It is the first building in what will eventually be a six to eight building campus with the capacity to support 5,000 students.
With construction on the second building, the Brazos Center, already underway, the local campus recently marked a milestone with its first two graduates, Chris Calmes and Salman Maredia. They both earned their associate degrees in precision machining technology.
Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital held a ribbon-cutting and blessing ceremony on Feb. 26 to mark the launch of the new Brazos Pavilion, which houses 104 patient care beds, bringing the hospital’s total bed count to 347. Brazos Pavilion’s 20-bed intensive care unit opened on Feb. 29 and build-out of an additional 56 medical/surgical beds was completed in May. An additional 28 beds will be added based on demand from the community.
“The opening of the new Brazos Pavilion is the culmination of our $131 million expansion program that began in 2013,” said Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital CEO Chris Siebenaler.
Following 27 months of construction, Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital opened the doors to its new 155,000 square-foot, six-story patient tower. The patient tower is the centerpiece of a $93 million expansion project on campus. The new tower adds 60 beds, including an expanded Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and a new 16-bed Intermediate Care Unit (IMU).
“This is an exciting day not just for our doctors, nurses and staff, but for our community as well,” said Greg Haralson, Senior Vice President and CEO, Memorial Hermann Sugar Land. “Our new patient tower and the changes that have taken place on our campus the past two years will allow us to better serve Fort Bend County residents for years to come.”
Sugar Land is set to annex Greatwood and New Territory on Dec. 12, 2017. When finalized, Sugar Land will grow by more than 30 percent, from a current population of 87,367 to more than 117,000 residents.
At its Nov. 15 meeting, the Sugar Land City Council unanimously approved an ordinance to annex the Municipal Utility Districts (MUDs) in both areas. City council also voted to amend the city’s fiscal year 2017 budget to begin the pre-annexation work necessary to provide new residents with city services beginning Dec. 12, 2017. The pre-annexation costs are funded by New Territory and Greatwood residents with money set aside during the last 10 years specifically for this purpose.
Simone Manuel is Sugar Land’s golden girl, winning two gold medals and two silvers at the Rio Olympics in August. Manuel tied for the gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle with 16-year-old Canadian Penny Oleksiak, the pair sharing a new Olympic record and both receiving a gold medal. That accomplishment made Manuel, 20, the first African-American female swimmer to take gold in an individual event.
She won her second gold medal when she anchored the U.S. women’s 4×100 medley relay to victory. In the 50-meter freestyle, Manuel took the silver medal, finishing just .02 seconds behind Denmark’s Pernille Blume with a time of 24.08. Her other silver came in the women’s 4×100-meter freestyle relay. The team had a time of 3:31.89, narrowly falling to the Australian team that set a world record at 3:30.65.
“When God got you, you can’t lose. It wasn’t the easiest journey, but I couldn’t be happier with my first Olympics!” she said via Twitter.
The city held a celebration for her and fellow Olympian Steven López, a former taekwondo gold medalist from Sugar Land who failed to medal in Rio.
4. Voters make changes at the polls
Multiple elections seemed to dominate the news all year long. With primaries and municipal elections in the spring, followed by runoffs, to Election Day in November, local voters went to the polls several times over the year.
Sugar Land has a new mayor in Joe Zimmerman. Fort Bend County voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton at the top of the ballot, but went solidly Republican down the ballot, including replacing Democratic County Commissioner Richard Morrison with Republican Vincent Morales.
Of the few Democrats who did win, Pct. 2 Constable Ruben Davis, who was running unopposed, passed away unexpectedly just days before the election. Another is State Rep. Ron Reynolds, who won handily in November despite going through a crowded primary and a runoff election in the spring.
In the time since his last election, Reynolds has become a convicted criminal and has fallen into deep financial trouble. He was convicted in 2015 of barratry (ambulance chasing) and this year settled several lawsuits against him from clients who accused him of keeping their portion of legal settlements. He has lost his license to practice law in Texas and filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
The Sugar Land Skeeters swept both playoff opponents to win their first Atlantic League of Professional Baseball championship with a 5-3 victory Sept. 30 at the Long Island Ducks.
The championship came in just the fifth year of the franchise and was the third playoff appearance for the Skeeters. It was an improbable accomplishment for a team that struggled to keep a winning record all season and nearly collapsed at the end with a 4-14 skid. The losing streak ended with a four-game series sweep and an undefeated six-game run in the playoffs.
“They stuck together and pulled it through the tough times,” owner Bob Zlotnik said.
The Skeeters were 35-35 and five games out of first at the end of the first half of the season. They came on strong in the second half, building a three-game lead before hitting the skid and sliding toward the brink of playoff elimination.
The Skeeters rebounded and went 10-0 at the end, eliminating the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs from playoff contention, sweeping the York Revolution for the Freedom Division title and downing the Ducks of Long Island for the championship.
Built by the City of Sugar Land in partnership with ACE SL, the $84 million Smart Financial Centre at Sugar Land will further position the city as a destination location for culture and entertainment. Located off of U.S. Highway 59 and University Boulevard, Smart Financial Centre is situated on a portion of 38.5 acres of city property. It will set a new standard for live performance venues and will be equipped to host a wide array of programming including national music and comedy artists, children and family entertainment, theatrically-staged productions and cultural and performing arts attractions. It will also be open to the community for local graduations and community theatre performances.
Designed for flexibility, the 200,000-square-foot venue incorporates innovative moveable walls that can expand and contract to create four different seating capacities that range from an intimate setting of 3,400 seats to a maximum of 6,400. It also features 14 luxury suites, corporate hospitality areas, and the latest sound, light and video technology. Other offerings include space to house up to 14 production trucks and buses, as well as 2,500 guest parking spaces.
“Our opening week (Jan. 14) featuring Jerry Seinfeld, Don Henley and Dirty Dancing is the perfect example of the performance variety ticket holders will continue to find at Smart Financial Centre at Sugar Land.”
1. Brazos River floods region twice
Heavy April showers inundated the region and pushed the river over its banks and causing Fort Bend and other area counties to receive disaster declarations. The river, however, wasn’t done. It once again succumbed to heaving rains over Memorial Day weekend, delivering an even more severe blow to a region that hadn’t quite dried out from the first flood.
The river topped 53 feet, setting a record and causing severe damage in parts of Simonton, Rosenberg and Richmond. Other areas were saturated as well and portions of the Brazos River Turnaround under Highway 59 were washed out. Several homes were destroyed in the floods and several business and parks were closed for an extended period of time. Residents in the Kingdom Heights subdivision of Rosenberg were trapped in their community for nearly a week until water receded enough from FM 723 for them to get out.
The communities for Fort Bend County came together in a big way to help with recovery efforts, some of which are still ongoing.