Although Sugar Land residents saw a slight increase in property tax rates from fiscal year 2016-17 to FY 2017-18, the rate of $0.31762 per $100 valuation remains lower than the property tax rates set by Fort Bend County and neighboring city Missouri City.
“Our focus has been on the development of tourism and economic development in order to lessen the burden of property taxes on our homeowners,” said Teresa Preza, Sugar Land’s tourism and destination services administrator. “With that, the city of Sugar Land has made some very bold and intentional decisions as to how it develops tourism, especially over the course of the past decade.”
Tourism over time
Originally founded as a company town for Imperial Sugar Refinery workers in the 1800s, Sugar Land maintains its historic roots while developing fixtures in the community, such as Town Square in 2003, the Houston Museum of Natural Science at Sugar Land in 2009 and Constellation Field in 2012.
“Although there’s always been a plethora of shopping opportunities within Sugar Land, and we’ve been a growing and developing community overall, back in the mid-2000s, we finished the construction of Sugar Land Town Square,” Preza said. “That was one of our key focal points, and it became very much our downtown for Sugar Land.”
As Town Square grows and changes, city officials are working to ensure residents and business people are getting the most out of the amenity by revamping the plaza outside City Hall.
“We have a lot of events in Town Square ... but those are primarily on weekends and in the evening,” Director of Economic Development Phil Wagner said. “The goal is to really try to increase sales and get people out of the office buildings to come down when the weather is nice, have lunch in the plaza and make it an enjoyable experience.”
The $1.5 million face-lift to Town Square Plaza will include artificial turf, decks with tables and chairs, a canopy structure, and a pedestrian bridge next to the Stephen F. Austin statue, Planned Community Developers President Les Newton said.
Nearby venues, such as Constellation Field, bring residents and visitors to Town Square for dining and retail options, Sugar Land Skeeters President Jay Miller said.
“People come into town, and they’re looking for something to do,” Miller said. “Town [Square] has been a great source for us with the restaurants and bars down there as far as distributing our pocket schedules, and we’ve got some of them as sponsors. It’s kind of a two-way street—we send [visitors] their way and they send them our way.”
Victor Litwinenko, co-owner of several Town Square restaurants, said he notices a surge when popular events are held at the Smart Financial Centre and when sold out events happen during the week.
According to a 2009 feasibility study, a projected return of $169 million is slated to come from Constellation Field over 30 years, Preza said.
“It brings in individuals from outside of Sugar Land, but it also services the community, so it’s able to fulfill both of the demands,” Preza said.
Officials with the venue, where various events from rugby matches and baseball games to concerts and festivals are hosted, work with local hotels to promote events for visitors, Miller said. Additionally, officials are always seeking partnership opportunities that will positively affect the venue as well as residents.
“It’s not just a baseball field,” he said. “We have this beautiful venue, and we’re pretty much open to try and use it 365 days a year rather than just baseball season. I think that’s really catching on, and people are starting to see all the different uses that can happen at the venue and at the ballpark. That’s when your business starts to grow.”
Destinations like the Smart Financial Centre, which opened in January 2017, and future sites like Imperial Market and Telfair-Tract 5 are also meant to serve both residents and visitors, Preza said.
“We’ve been progressively developing our tourism opportunities, not just for the benefit of our community but also for the benefit of our traveling audience,” she said.
In its first year, the Smart Financial Centre was slated to see about 260,000 total attendees. However, this goal was surpassed and the venue hosted more than 350,000 attendees, Preza said.
The venue hosted 131 performances in its inaugural year, said Gary Becker, ACE Sugar Land LLC President. ACE, which holds a partnership with the city, is a company formed by entertainment industry veterans that specializes in the design, construction and operation of live-performance theaters across North America.
“The success for us in Sugar Land is 21.32 percent of tickets are sold outside of the [Greater] Houston area, so there’s quite a few people coming into Sugar Land,” Becker said.
Future destinations like Imperial Market at the sugar refinery site and Telfair-Tract 5 near the Smart Financial Centre will serve as hubs where residents can live and be close to amenities, and visitors can also take advantage of the offerings.
Imperial Market, which is set to break ground in March, will be a 26-acre mixed-use lifestyle center with business space, retail stores, destination services and restaurants. The Sugar Land Heritage Museum and Visitors Center is already operational in the space along with the Fort Bend Children’s Discovery Center, Preza said.
“It’s going to be one of our most historical venues because of the Imperial Sugar Refinery,” she said. “It really ties it all back into who we are and how we even started.”
Several of Sugar Land’s attractions are permanent fixtures in the community. However, the city also hosts events to entice residents and tourists to explore the area.
Sugar Land celebrates its 15th annual weeklong Wine & Food Affair event in April featuring the Artisan Market and Bistro Brunch, event director Quinn Hoang said.
“A lot of these events are going to be taking place in very significant landmarks of Sugar Land,” Hoang said. “It really is meant to spotlight Sugar Land and Fort Bend [County].”
The annual event, which was started by the Fort Bend Chamber of Commerce, brings in chefs from all over the country, Hoang said.
“We’re hoping to reach a greater audience,” she said. “The community of Fort Bend is one of the fastest growing in the nation, so we want to make sure that we have a spotlight on what they have to offer.”
One event destination in Sugar Land is The Crown Festival Park, which has been operational for about a year, Preza said. The city’s annual Cultural Kite Festival and 4th of July celebration have taken place in the park, she said.
The space is designed for large-scale as well as private events, Preza said.
“The development of our new destination venues have been extremely beneficial to our economic makeup,” she said. “They help diversify our revenue sources, which brings in new sales tax funding, which helps offset the cost of our property taxes.”