Sugar Land mayor, city manager lay out vision for city being a 'trailblazer' in State of the City address

Sugar Land City Manager Mike Goodrum, left, and Mayor Joe Zimmerman present their vision for the city's future during the State of the City address at the Mariott hotel in Sugar Land Town Square.

The large ballroom of the Marriott hotel at Sugar Land Town Square was filled with a who's who of elected officials and the local business community Friday as Mayor Joe Zimmerman and City Manager Mike Goodrum laid out their vision for a revitalization of the city in the annual "State of the City" event hosted by the Fort Bend Chamber of Commerce.

In a slickly produced multimedia presentation, the pair took a tag-team approach, taking turns with the speech that was also interspersed with videos showcasing city staff, City Council members and members of the public presenting a unified vision of taking Sugar Land into a new level as a growing suburban community

The presentation began with a video that looked back over the decades to once-dominant businesses such as Blockbuster Video and Radio Shack which withered and died because they didn't keep up with new technologies and changes in consumer demands. The unspoken message in the video was that is where Sugar Land's leadership sees the city heading if it doesn't take a more proactive approach.

In their combined talk, Zimmerman and Goodrum didn't take long bringing that subtext forward.

"Life is short and we only get one chance at success," Zimmerman said, "which is why we are obsessed with being a city that is creating community and legacy in our city, in our neighborhoods, and in our lives."

"And while our core services are world-class," Goodrum added, "we know these things are meaningless if we are not creating a community and a place where you belong, be happy, and find meaning."

The pair went on to describe Sugar Land's long-touted reputation for clean and safe neighborhoods, access to good educational opportunities and medical facilities, and a thriving business community.

"We are dedicated and focused on working to ensure that your children and grandchildren are just as happy and fulfilled as you have been for decades," Zimmerman said.

The officials described how Sugar Land grew from a small company town to a destination Houston suburb in the 1970s and 1980s. But the city ultimately plateaued in its growth, they said, and is now at a crossroads where it must decide whether to remain stagnant or move into a new future.

"It's hard to believe," Zimmerman said, "but if we don't continue to evolve and change for the better, just as we've done for decades, we will quickly find ourselves becoming closer to Blockbuster than continuing to being recognized as one of the nation's safest and best places to live, to work and play."

Of particular concern, the pair said, was the rapidly the city's rapidly aging built environment and infrastructure, increasing commercial bankruptcies and vacant properties. Meanwhile, the median age of the city's residents has grown steadily over the last three decades, and younger people increasingly find it hard to find affordable housing.

The city leadership has shifted its focus from refill development to guided refill and redevelopment in order to take advantage of changes in the business environment and technology that make it possible for people to live closer to work rather than commute to central business districts and other major employment hubs.

"It has been years since we've pulled off a major project" Zimmerman said, citing the Sugar Land Town Square which was completed in the mid-2000s. Other planned projects have not come to fruition because of various market forces, Goodrum added, which has harmed the city's reputation.

"We are risking failure today in our efforts to attract and retain a tax base as well as our efforts to ensure Sugar Land is a place people want to gather and live in," Goodrum said.

The city needs to seize on new opportunities to not only preserve it's current reputation but to remain a thriving community in the decades ahead, the pair said.

They cited the City Council's recent approval of a proposed redevelopment of the Imperial Char House and the surrounding area into a mixed-used center that would combine office space, residential and retail and entertainment venues as an example of how the city is taking a new approach. Another is the city's new program to provide incentives to qualified homeowners of to renovate their aging homes.

The pair asked residents to come forward with their own ideas on how to improve the city and not just complain when they oppose a new proposal.

"We need each of you to bring us your biggest, boldest, and craziest ideas on how to ensure our community continues to provide a life better than imagined for your family, the students in our schools, and the future of your businesses," Zimmerman said. "Bring us the ideas you don't think anyone will say yes to, but you think that will help us solve our biggest challenges."

"Our city has the potential to be a trailblazer, to lead the way in creating new paths and breaking new ground," Zimmerman said, introducing the city's new marketing phase.

"Together, we can be the trailblazer. Together, we can make a difference," Zimmerman said in conclusion.

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