US 75/691 Update

This story was published in summer 2009.

In summer of 2008, Texoma Living! gave readers the first look at the plans for the development of the intersection at US 75 and FM 691. while the new Texoma Medical Center hospital on the northeast corner is alive with busy construction workers and water and sewer service lines from Sherman burrow across the southeast side of the intersection, nothing on the west side has disturbed the grass growing thick from the spring rains.

There is the Hilton Garden Inn and Convention Center? Has the economy left the complex buried in the grass even before construction began? We decided to take a second look and check up on Texoma’s bid to expand TMC into a regional lodestone that will attract retail stores, ancillary services and further development.

“Well, there’s good news and bad news,” said Scott Smathers, Vice-president of Development for the Denison Development Alliance. “The good news is the hospital is on schedule, actually a little ahead, and they will move in people in December this year. So far the Medical Office Building, a 120,000 square foot building, is on schedule for January.

Also on schedule is the new Reba’s Ranch House. The hospitality facility is now owned by the Texoma Health Foundation, but music star Reba McEntire has reaffirmed her long standing commitment to the Ranch House, and she flew in to to take part in the groundbreaking ceremonies on May 23, 2009.

Economy Takes Its Toll

As for the hotel-convention center complex, there is bad news—no, soften that to less than good news. The national economic woes have taken their toll at the ground zero of all development—financing. Nevertheless, Second Century Investments, owners of the Hilton Garden Inn Hotel, say they still are committed to building the hotel, and Faye Brockett, Denison’s Planning and Zoning Director, confirmed that SCI already has submitted most of the required paperwork to the city for approval.

The Hilton Garden Inn site plan calls for six-story hotel of 89,645 square feet, plus a conference center of 18,265 square feet. As soon as the market loosens up and money flows again, SCI said they expect to start construction, but right now, getting $15 to $20 million in financing is not easy.

Denison Mayor Robert Brady agreed that the economy has had an impact on businesses wanting to start new stores or services. “The medical facilities are all on schedule, [but retail development plans] have slowed down. We’ve had a lot of tire kickers, but not anyone who has substantially committed themselves in any way. We still hope for a major retail store as an anchor to smaller retail and service businesses.” Tom Johnson, the developer and owner of some of the land, agreed with the mayor’s current assessment, adding, “We have nothing in the works regarding retail or other businesses.”

Still the goal is to make Texoma Medical Center, under the umbrella of Universal Health Services, Inc., a regional health care center offering services to four counties in Texoma: Grayson and Fannin in Texas and Carter and Bryan in Oklahoma. The larger the area TMC serves, the more patients it will attract. Patients are often accompanied by family members who in a crisis prefer to stay close by. While some of them will stay in the new Reba’s Ranch House facility, many will look for local hotels, restaurants, and nearby shopping to supply immediate needs.

Citizens Hopeful for Development

Area residents interviewed echoed these thoughts. Judy Fisher, a Denison resident, said people with sick family members will need places to stay, and if the hotel goes up and has a convention center a nearby drugstore would be nice. “Everyone forgets something when they travel, and they need to have access to inexpensive clothing and toiletries without driving all over. And, of course, restaurants—something with home cooking like Pops on Breezy Hill, or a bistro like La Madeleine. A Waffle House would be really great.”

“You know people at conventions. They also like to shop. Boutiques and gift shops and restaurants are a must,” noted Kay Casey, adding, “With more workers moving in, I’d think a grocery store would be necessary.”

Planning for Expansion

Sherman officials hope the FM 691/ US 75 area develops, too. John Boswell from the Sherman Economic Development Corporation (SEDCO) said, “It is in our best interests to grow the area the best way we can. Both the hospital and the hotel will be a great asset to the area.” That’s one of the reasons Sherman decided to extend water and sewer utilities to the intersection. Usually utilities are the responsibility of the developer but terrain-limiting factors made that difficult.”
Mark Gibson, the city’s Director of Engineering and Utilities expanded on that. “The water line will be finished by June 16 this year, and plans for the sewer are in the final design process. We still have to acquire right-of ways and let bids.”

Mayor Bill Magers sees US 75/FM 691 as the gateway to Sherman. “I like to think of our boundaries as bookends. This is the north bookend.” Magers agreed that private development has slowed down here as it has all over, but he thinks “the southeast corner [of US 75/FM 691, Sherman’s corner] will probably develop first, as it is on the same side of the highway as the medical buildings, probably not with retail but with high-end services—maybe a bank, doctor’s offices, a restaurant. The price of dirt will keep the businesses high-end. It will look good for Sherman.”

Since 1991, the Sherman-Denison Metropolitan Planning Organization (SDMPO) has been responsible for the development of any transportation projects that involve state or federal money. The mayors from both Sherman and Denison are permanent voting members. A small city mayor, currently Frank Budra of Pottsboro, a county commissioner, currently Gene Short, and Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) engineer Bill Littlefield round out the committee. It was the committee’s decision to widen FM 691 from North Texas Regional Airport eastward to create improved access to US 75. Through the MPO, they received money from the federal government’s stimulus initiatives to fund the necessary improvements.

“There is a whole new spirit of cooperation among the municipalities, especially regarding transportation,” said Jeff Miller, Director of Public Works for Sherman. “I have heard many discussions from the mayors on the MPO, and they are all for helping each other.”

Meanwhile, Denison has purchased land for a new fire station on the south end of Park Street, where it joins Spur 503. This puts fire services within a mile of the new developments. Chief Gordon Weger knows that his department’s eighty-foot aerial ladder will not quite reach the top of the new hospital, and a new fire truck is necessary. As of June 1, an order had not been placed.

But back to the rest of the dream. Mayor Brady said that if TMC becomes a regional force anticipated, they may need as many as two hundred more employees. And if this happens it could increase demand for, both housing and services and with necessities and entertainment for visitors and tourists.
Texoma is building in spite of the recession, and city officials are planning for the future, making sure that our highways and city services are ready, because they believe “if you build it they will come.”