Boardwalk near Katy Mills to offer view of wetland, wildlife

The city of Katy is making progress toward creating a $1.3 million boardwalk just south of Katy Mills. The project could provide residents and visitors with an up-close view of an area teeming with wildlife. City officials said they are working with a land planner to decide how best to approach the project and expect to purchase the needed land in coming months. Future plans for the area include a full-service hotel and convention center.



Meanwhile, nearby homeowners are waiting to see how the project might affect them.



Boardwalk soon underway



During the mall's construction in 1999, at the encouragement of nearby homeowners, earth was moved from the wetlands at the southeast corner of Katy Mills to create a berm separating Falcon Point and Pin Oak Village from the mall, Katy Mayor Fabol Hughes said.



In the process, an 80-acre retention pond was formed. Over time, alligators, a variety of birds and other wildlife made the area home. Initial plans for the boardwalk show it encircling the pond, Hughes said.



Katy Marketing and Tourism Specialist Kayce Reina said before the city purchases the land and begins construction on the boardwalk, they must finish ironing out some details with the developer about precisely how the land will be used.



Still, Hughes said, the city will likely purchase the land very soon.



"We're working with a land planner to put it all together. We'll probably put it out for bid about next month," he said.



While the specifics are still being discussed, Hughes said the general plan for the boardwalk consists of 2 miles of trails around the retention pond, plus some observation areas. The site will be designated as a park, he said.



The Katy Development Authority, which derives its revenue from the Katy Mills mall, will fund the boardwalk project. The money will not come from city funds, Hughes said.



Watching the wildlife



Amos Cooper, the Alligator Program director for Texas Parks and Wildlife said the dozen or more alligators in the wetland area would not necessarily need to be evicted from the pond when the boardwalk is built. Alligators do not approach people unless they are used to people feeding them, he said.



"If nobody's been feeding them, they'll stay away," Cooper said.



Keeping the alligators from coming back, if they were removed, could be difficult, Cooper said. Texas Parks and Wildlife opposes removing an animal from an area where it is not a threat or a nuisance.



"We don't touch them if it's not a nuisance," he said.



Future area development



The boardwalk is just the first step in the city's vision for future development around Katy Mills, city officials said.



"The next thing would be putting in a convention center with a hotel," Hughes said. "That's in the preliminary phases."



Tentative ideas for the convention center place the facility's size at 55,000 square feet, with potential to expand to 100,000. City officials also would like to recruit a full-service hotel.



Hughes said he pictures the area eventually consisting of top-notch restaurants, shopping, entertainment venues, nightlife and residential lofts, similar to Town and Country Village or the CityCentre.



"We did a study about three years ago that said that's needed here. So we're going forward with it," Hughes said.



The boardwalk is very close to becoming a reality, but any additional development such as the hotel, convention center, retail and entertainment would not be in the works for another year or so, Hughes said.



Potential economic impact



A similar, and successful, example of such a convention center and hotel development in the region can be found in League City at the South Shore Harbour Convention Center and Resort.



The center was proposed and built largely during the 1980s when League City had a population of 16,578—similar to Katy's present population. League City's historic district, like Katy, is bisected by a railroad. Both cities carefully preserve historic structures and landmarks, while also welcoming commercial development and investment. Both have large and notable school districts—League City is in Clear Creek ISD.



Since the completion of the hotel, convention center and surrounding master-planned community, League City has seen growth in its population and economy. Today the city's population is over 80,000—a 504 percent increase.



"The construction of South Shore Harbour Resort along with the office buildings and the residential construction has certainly impacted the economic growth of the community," said Owen Rock, League City's economic development manager.



The resort and convention center has also generated Hotel Occupancy Tax funds. In 2013, Rock said, South Shore Harbour brought in $212, 659 in HOT.



Informed citizens



Residents in the neighborhoods adjacent to Katy Mills and the planned boardwalk site are waiting on more information before they form any opinions on the project. Pin Oak Village and Falcon Point homeowners, in particular, are eager to learn exactly how the area they border will be used, Brian Matthey, president of the Pin Oak Homeowners Association said



The berms were built at the request of homeowners, who were concerned that the mall might bring noise, traffic and crime to the area. They have not organized any action in support or opposition to the boardwalk, however, because many are waiting to learn more.



Matthey said residents have mostly heard about the boardwalk through second- and third-hand sources. They will continue to watch, however, whether the boardwalk's proximity will be a boon or a burden.



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