Sugar Land in negotiations to acquire prison land

The city of Sugar Land is in negotiations with the state to purchase the 238-acre Central Unit Prison site for the purposes of redeveloping it into a multi-faceted development, which could include a business park, a public safety training facility and an airport expansion.

With the city nearly at capacity in terms of its available office and industrial space, it is focused on growing its capacity and exploring different avenues and creative solutions to spur and further expand the city's economy through the development of new office and industrial space, said Jennifer May, director of the city's office of economic development.

One such avenue the city is exploring—contingent on the purchase of the site—is to transform a portion of the Central Unit Prison property into a future business park; giving the city much needed acreage for its continued business and industry growth.

"We anticipate the business park as being attractive to both light industrial tenants while also being flexible for office users," said Doug Adolph, assistant communications director for Sugar Land.

Ongoing negotiations

With the former jail site available for purchase, the city began negotiating with the state for the acquisition of the property after its closure.

The city is seeking a partner to conduct a feasibility study of the site to determine the viability of converting the land and whether it will be a beneficial location for area businesses, Adolph said. Once a partner for the feasibility study is selected, the study will need to be approved by City Council before it can be conducted. Adolph said the feasibility study would also determine the potential economic stimulus the development of the site could provide the city.

"The feasibility study will help define what the market is for the site and what potential tenants might be out there looking to expand in the Houston market that might see this as a viable option," said Phil Wagner, public-private partnerships manager for Sugar Land. "We cannot just buy the land and hope that all that works out."

Because the city is in the midst of negotiations with the state, many details and specifics are unknown, including the price of the land and how the city would fund the purchase.

The Texas General Land Office could not disclose how much it is hoping to receive for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice property, said Jim Suydam, GLO press secretary.

"The city and state have an interest in seeing this move forward, but obviously it is a significant amount of land we are trying to close on," Wagner said. "We just have to make sure that we are looking after the best interest of the Sugar Land taxpayers in the process."

According to a 2012 real property evaluation report by the GLO, the Central Unit Prison property—located near Hwy. 6 and Hwy. 90 in Sugar Land—was appraised in 2010 and had a land and market value of $23.3 million.

"The listed value for this property is for the land only as most of the buildings are obsolete and only functional for prison operations," the report stated. "In so far as this property will be sold in the near future, the cost of demolition and mitigation of environmental issues is not included in the total market value provided. If the TDCJ does not pursue demolition and mitigation prior to a sale, the net value to the state will be less than what is posted in this report."

Training facility

Along with the need for a new business park, Sugar Land officials have also maintained a goal of building a public safety training facility in the city for several years—a goal that could become a reality should the city purchase the land, Wagner said.

"Our preference would be to have [a public safety training facility] in the city, and there just was not a lot of available land outside of this property where that could work," he said. "And we just saw that as kind of a goal that could be met by about 22 acres on this site."

The facility would be designed as a multifaceted training building featuring classrooms, a shooting range, a driving track and a multistory drill tower. It would be built by and for the city of Sugar Land, not as a joint facility with Fort Bend County, Sugar Land Fire Chief Juan Adame said. He said public safety departments from surrounding cities might come to the facility to complete their training as well.

Access to transportation

In addition, the former prison property is located in what Sugar Land officials said they hope is an ideal transportation area.

"There is nearby rail, the airport is adjacent to the site, and we are right at the intersection of [Hwy.] 6 and [Hwy.] 90," Wagner said. "So various transportation modes would be covered if this business park were to be developed. And we feel that is a selling point."

If the land is purchased, it could allow the Sugar Land Regional Airport to expand using 95 acres of the parcel.

"The 95 acres is being funded through a 90 percent grant from the Federal Aviation Administration, which is being administered by the Texas Department of Transportation Aviation Division," Wagner said. "So there is a grant involved with that land transaction."

Adolph said TxDOT Aviation has supported the airport by helping fund many projects. He said the department will likely assist in the purchase, but that it is not guaranteed.

Should the property be acquired and a business park built, the business park could possibly include aviation-related businesses due to its proximity to the airport, Adolph said. It would also open up a western access point for the airport and allow for additional improvements.

"[A western access point] just doesn't exist at this point," Adolph said. "And it will square off the layout of the airport so they can possibly develop hangars and other aviation businesses that would continue to provide a revenue source for the entire region."


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