Cleburne sees treasure in toll road, plans development

A new H-E-B opened recently in Cleburne

Cleburne’s Top 10 Industries

WalMart Distribution Center

Johns Manville

James Hardie Building Products

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Supreme Corporation of Texas

Greenbrier Rail Services

Technical Chemical Co.

Techlight/Horizon Manufacturing Inc.

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Schlumberger Co.

Texas Lime Co.

Broan NuTone Storage Solutions

Source: City of Cleburne

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When Chisholm Trail Parkway opened a year ago in May, Cleburne Mayor Scott Cain gazed nervously to the north.

He feared that precious sales tax dollars would migrate into Fort Worth as townsfolk used the 28-mile toll road to reach Cowtown and its retail riches.

“I expected us to take a hit economically. That hasn’t been the case at all,” said Cain, who is working to promote a plan that could enrich his community just south of Fort Worth.

Cleburne Station is the plan, a 75-acre development set for the southeast corner of Chisholm Trail Parkway and U.S. Highway 67. The site would feature shops, restaurants and a multi-use stadium for sports and live music.

That’s a far cry from previous plans to build a truck stop at what Cain calls the city’s entryway.

“We need a truck stop, but not at our front door,” Cain said.

So Cain and other city officials in June mailed developers requests for proposals to fulfill a vision fueled by town hall meetings, social media campaigns and old-fashioned coffee house conversations to determine residents’ interest in the development.

“Folks seem really receptive to the idea,” said Cain, who is hoping that added retail and restaurant options, as well as live music and sporting events, not only will keep residents shopping in town, but also will attract out-of-town visitors and their tax dollars to Cleburne, the city at the southern end of the tollway.

No public opposition has surfaced regarding a plan that would require city tax dollars to reach fruition. Then again, the project has not been formally announced. That’s expected later this summer after a developer or developers have been chosen and plans are finalized.

Still, Cain acknowledged that voters must approve a half-cent sales tax and bond measure to fulfill the plan. The proposals are expected to be on the ballot in November.

The chosen developer would pay for most of the stadium, with the voter-approved bond paying up to $30 million. The half-cent sales tax would pay for annual payments on the bond, estimated at about $1.5 million per year.

“We will not raise property taxes for this project,” Cain emphasized.

“If voters vote against it, then no,” Cain said when asked whether plans would proceed without voter approval.

But everyday interaction with neighbors, as well as comments made at public meetings, have boosted Cain’s confidence in the plan for Cleburne Station. Plans include six restaurant pad sites, 346,850 square feet of retail space, two big-box pad sites and a multi-use stadium for soccer and concerts – not to mention serving as home to the Cleburne Railroaders, a minor league baseball team that has not played since 1906. The new stadium would herald its return.

Cleburne Station is expected to have an economic impact of up to $100 million – $87 million in retail revenue alone – by the time it’s built out, according to an economic analysis by Jim Sabonis, the city’s financial adviser and senior vice president of First Southwest Co. Buildout for the entire project has not been determined, but the stadium portion is expected to be open by summer 2016.

The project’s master plan was developed by Chuck Stark of Barron, Stark & Swift Consulting Engineers LP, the Fort Worth firm also helping select the project developer.

Hoping to sweeten the deal for prospective homebuilders, city officials are waiving impact and permit fees for the first two years for companies building residences at the location. Ensuring adequate housing is vital for a community that’s growing every day, Cain said.

According to the North Central Texas Council of Governments, the city whose population now tops 30,000 is expected to reach 40,162 by 2020 and 48,389 by 2035.

Without factoring in what Cain calls the “tollway effect,” the mayor said his city’s population might even double in the next 15 or 20 years.

“We’re going to have to start thinking more regionally,” said Cain.

And Cleburne Station is an ideal first step to pursuing that mindset, he said.

The tollway, which Cain calls a “game changer,” already has seeded new homes in Cleburne as people who are able to get there quicker and easier add the Johnson County community to their list of recreational and business destinations.

“The thing that has been amazing to me is I expected sales tax numbers to go down as our community went to Fort Worth to shop, but the exact opposite has happened. We are becoming a regional shopping node and people are coming to Cleburne because it’s more laid back.”

Year-to-date sales tax revenue in Cleburne is $4.2 million, up from $4 million for the same period in 2014, a 2.5 percent increase, according to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.