History books layout the story of a city as a series of important years, and Denison is no different — 1872: town structured and named; 1890: Dwight Eisenhower is born; 1913: the Marx Brothers reinvent themselves while performing in town; 1938: construction begins on Munson Stadium; 1984: football state champions… The list goes on.
It’s a collection of years containing defining events by which a town comes to be known and defined, both in the minds of its residents, as well as the minds of outsiders. And given the events of A.D. 2013 in Denison, it doesn’t seem far-fetched to hear the city’s leaders describe the last year as one for the history books.
“It’s the most successful year that any of my (board of directors) can remember in the history of Denison,” said Development Alliance President Tony Kaai. “(And that board includes) mayors and lots of people that have been here a long time.”
It was a year in which the city expanded its borders by 25 percent, created the potential to increase its population by a third, and added 3,600 jobs. A year like that packs the kind of punch that makes people throw around historical language. The annexation of 3,100 acres for high-end homes on Lake Texoma for George Schuler’s Preston Harbour development was the year’s defining moment for city government, said local officials.
“That was the culmination of 12 years of a lot of work by a lot of people,” said Mayor Jared Johnson. “That project has the potential to add 10,000 people to our population. It has the potential to increase our tax base by $4 billion. And when you’re talking about that big of impact, it dramatically changes what this community is able to accomplish.”
Johnson and other Denison leaders repeatedly referenced the potential of the project to shift the image of the city over the next four decades. It’s a shift from a blue-collar type of town that lives and dies with the ebbs and flows of industry, into a place that profits as it glides along the greased skids of tourism.
“Denison has a rich history, from a hardworking railroad town, to industry and manufacturing, to this mix of the future with the resort area,” said Johnson. “We’re oftentimes referred to as ‘The City on Lake Texoma,’ but this (development) will solidify that position. … It has the potential to be the biggest thing that’s happened to Denison.”
But the change won’t come overnight. In fact, Schuler won’t sell his first house on the land until 2020. In the meantime, 2013 brought several short- and medium-term reasons for excitement.
Local developer Tom Johnson’s Gateway Village development, which will bring a hotel and event center, mixed-income housing, and retail growth to the intersection of highways 75 and 691, also broke ground this year.
“Really, I think that’s what gives us the most excitement for the near term, because construction’s happening now,” said Mayor Johnson. “(Not only is it) the retail that it will bring, it’s the housing development that’s going to be just behind that. This development is going to enable Denison to start having some of that housing availability to the people that work here.”
Johnson said additional retail will not come at the expense of a downtown area that saw unprecedented growth this year. The Texas Downtown Association recognized the city’s efforts to spur growth on Main Street as the best civic marketing program in Texas.
“Our downtown is vibrant and it’s becoming even more vibrant,” said Johnson. “We’ve seen 13 new businesses in the last year, and the more businesses that you’re getting downtown, the more success that all those businesses have. 2013 was a great year in that regard.”
With business growth comes job growth, and Denison had a banner year in that department as well, said Kaai. Using the lure of job-creation incentives financed by the city’s economic development sales tax, the DDA reeled-in numerous big fish in 2013, and succeeded in growing several fish it had previously caught.
“I think the biggest thing for us as a community was the business announcements and expansions we’ve had,” said Kaai. “Over the last two years, (we’ve) created or announced 1,200 direct new jobs. And then you have the indirect jobs, and that’s another 2,400 indirect jobs. So that’s incredible — that’s over about an 18-month period.”
But more jobs bring more people, and more people demand more services. The Denison City Council addressed several long-neglected needs during the last year, beginning renovations on the public library, starting construction on a new Southside Fire Station, and completing several water storage and water treatment projects.
“It’s something that, as citizens, we take for granted sometimes. … Every time we turn the faucet, we want to have clean water coming out of it, and the way that happens is through the treatment process,” said Johnson. “It was time for an upgrade, and we were able to get that accomplished through our water and sewer fund.”
Looking forward, Denison’s mayor said 2014 will include a project to upgrade the city’s aging police station. Johnson said he hopes next year will also be the beginning of a conversation on how to improve the town’s recreation facilities.
“As we look to budget every year, we try to take one bite out of the apple at a time, because those are areas that are tough to prioritize over certain other needs,” said Johnson. “Denison is really behind in providing the number of amenities for our current population. I think we need to definitely start talking about those things, and then where it fits into the timeline of actually completing a project like that.”
Whether hindsight will prove that 2013 was a turning point in Denison’s history remains to be seen. But according to Johnson, whatever the historical impact of the last year, the city continues to prove it has a renewable resource that provides a solid foundation.
“There’s one common thread through (Denison’s history), and that’s our people,” said Johnson. “In every economic development announcement that we’ve had, every big project announcement we’ve had, every success on Main Street — you’ll look at those and go ‘Why did that happen?’ And you can point to multiple people or multiple organizations, multiple foundations in our community that care about one thing: to make Denison a better place for the people living in it today and the people that are going to live in it in the future.
“It’s just exciting to get to work with those folks everyday, and it’s exciting to know that, when we think about Denison’s future, it’s very, very bright.”