By RUSSELL HUFFMAN
A study concerning a multi-purpose center has created quite a stir in Stephenville with the topic hot enough the city council opened an executive session to the pubic recently to discuss property located just off US Highway 67.
The potential land purchase has spawned great debate over need, cost, the ability to pay, annexation, and whether or not incorporating a rodeo arena would create competition for other businesses.
A study has been launched into seeing if the property meets the city’s needs now and into the future. The local Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA) has given $2,500 to help fund the study’s $15,000 cost.
It’s the third time in recent history a multi-purpose center has been discussed, and the project is part of Stephenville’s comprehensive growth plan. This time around there has been a good deal of buzz on social media and a newspaper’s website about “polls” for or against the project.
“The buzz on social media is we’re buying a piece of property and that’s not true,” said Stephenville Mayor Pro Tem Russ McDanel. “The city was asked about its potential interest and no deal has been made.”
McDanel feels some of those stirring up negative opinions against the project are doing so without any facts as he points out no one has all the facts about this project.
“We are doing a study after receiving a letter about the property,” McDanel said. “It’s an interesting offer and it is adjacent to land the city already owns, but the council doesn’t have all of the facts needed to make an informed decision.”
McDanel’s political history has shown him centering his priorities on Stephenville’s comprehensive growth plan.
“In no particular order, my five priorities are,” McDanel answered in question to what he feels are the most important issues impacting Stephenville’s future.
“But, the Stephenville Economic Development Authority, annexation, a multi-purpose center, streets and the east side sewer trunk line is where I feel my energy should be devoted,” McDanel responded
McDanel holds up a sheath of papers which turns out to be Stephenville’s comprehensive plan.
“I bring this to every meeting, because I want to keep it handy to remind myself what the expectations of that plan are,” McDanel said. “That way I know decisions I make are in line with that plan. I want to see the facts from this study before making a decision and not make a premature decision.”
McDanel is probably referring to a recent newspaper ad placed by a fellow councilman who has already made a decision against the project and wants everyone to know it.
The advertisement touched on several topics to include a contract with Countywide Inspections and calling into question the company’s ability to service Stephenville.
“Prejudging the ability of a qualified company to accomplish something is like saying you have a crystal ball and can predict the future,” McDanel said. “Countywide came and gave a 45-minute presentation and documentation of their abilities and cities they have or are servicing. They display an ability to do weekend and after-hours work. They also offer plan reviews as part of their service.”
McDanel explains there simply “hasn’t been enough time to make a determination” of how the process is working since Stephenville is extremely shorthanded in its planning and building services department. The loss of two inspectors doesn’t appear to be a priority either, with the city not having placed advertisements for either position.
“We have a contract with Countywide and we are currently looking for a Director of Planning and Building Services. That person, once in place needs, to be involved in how the city moves forward from there,” McDanel said. “I also haven’t heard of any complaints from builders or developers.”
One of the most visible studies being conducted by Stephenville concerns a city-wide pavement plan for street repairs and roadways like Harbin Drive, which received some “patch work” but not a total makeover. The street has been the subject of several citizen comments during council meetings.
“Next year Tarleton State University is doing a $24.4 million renovation and upgrade to Memorial Stadium and that’s going to put lots of traffic and heavy equipment up and down the road,” McDanel said. “Doing roadwork and paving now probably isn’t our best step forward. People do need to know we are looking at needs we have now, while also considering the immediate future needs and beyond.”
McDanel feels a town hall meeting may be in order should the council find the idea of a multi-purpose center fits into Stephenville’s plans.
“You can poll and conduct surveys all you want, but before the facts come in it’s irresponsible to make a decision one way or the other,” McDanel said. “We want to be transparent and having all the facts helps us do that.