Ken Fountain

I told you in my introductory column back in November that I grew up in Alief. Not too far away from Fort Bend County, but far enough that I have few associations with the place from that time aside from occasionally passing the office buildings along the Southwest Freeway,

My first memory of setting foot in Sugar Land was going to see a movie at a small theater there with family friends in the early 1980s. I don't remember why that particular theater was selected. I do remember seeing the Imperial Char House, which is fairly distinctive. Back then, Sugar Land seemed like an awfully small town to my teenage mind.

I didn't have a real experience with Fort Bend until I moved back to the Houston area from California, where I had served in the Navy, in the mid-90s. By then, the changes in Fort Bend's demographics and semi-rural character were well under way.

In case you've missed the news (and how could you?), the old Imperial Sugar Company property is once again the subject of a proposed development. After a couple of previous attempts, this plan seems to have a lot more momentum, with the City of Sugar Land already committing to contributing up to $5 million in the project.

As is to be expected, a lot of people are excited at the prospect of turning the long-dormant property into a big mixed-development hub, something that the county has been lacking with the exception of Sugar Land Town Square, completed in the mid-2000s.

Also to be expected, many people are concerned that the project will permanently alter the character of the oldest part of Sugar Land. Of particular concern is the idea that a large number of multi-family housing units will bring traffic congestion and other problems that people often associate with apartments.

Many Black residents are also concerned that the proposed redevelopment won't adequately acknowledge the contributions that African-Americans made to the sugar industry, which was the city's economic backbone for decades and in fact gave it its name.

I've encountered the resistance by homeowners to apartments at other places I've covered as a reporter. I can appreciate the concern that people, particularly people who have spent all or most of their lives in the area that their longstanding way of life might be about to change.

The Alief I grew up in in the 1970s and '80s was, for that time, a pretty diverse place. It was a fairly new suburb during the oil boom era, with people from all over the country and globe pouring into Houston region. I had friends of nearly every background you might name.

Today, Alief is a much more diverse place. A few years ago, I attended an academic lecture by a professor who studies religious diversity. According to his research, Alief is the second-most religiously diverse community in the nation, behind Flatbush in Queens, New York.

Not long before the pandemic, I went on a walking tour of my old haunts in Alief, from my childhood home nearly to Hastings High School, where I graduated. The community is indeed very different from when I grew up there. It's a place that today is economically challenged. But it also has gained national and perhaps international fame as the primary setting of the hit Netflix series Mo, created by and starring Mo Amer, a Palestinian-American comedian who grew up there.

Change can be scary. But it can also be exciting and, in the long run, beneficial. I don't have a particular stand on the proposed Imperial redevelopment. But one hopes that all concerned - developers, city officials, and the public - will listen to each other, learn from each other, and work with civility toward making the site a boon for the community.

As a reminder, the Exchange Club of Sugar Land has kindly invited me to be the guest speaker at its breakfast meeting on February 15. I plan to share some of my thoughts about working at a community newspaper in Fort Bend and the current state of journalism, and answer your questions.

I've been told that anyone is welcome to attend. I'd like to meet you. The meeting will begin at 7 a.m. at the Sugar Creek Country Club, located at 420 Sugar Creek Blvd., Sugar Land. You can find more details at

As always, please send story ideas and news tips to me at

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