Mangrum: New developments planned for Early after COVID-related challenges
EARLY —Speaking to a full house at the Early Visitors and Events Center on Friday, Mayor Bob Mangrum reviewed recent challenges as he began his State of the City address.
Then Mangrum moved on to highlight the city’s accomplishments and describe projects “that are just about ready to come out of the dirt.”
Mangrum intermixed a powerpoint and video presentation with his comments as he described coming projects including the Town Center — planned as a multipurpose development behind businesses that stretch from Humphrey Pete’s to the CEFCO store on Early Boulevard.
Mangrum also said:
• R4 Parkway Properties has started construction of a 4,000-square-foot, two-tenant building. One of the tenants will be the Up In Smoke barbecue restaurant.
• Kanar RV Sales on Early Boulevard is building a 7,300-foot show room and RV repair shop.
• The Bear Creek apartment complex is adding another phase with 25 additional units.
• The CEFCO on Early Boulevard will tear down its existing store and replace it with a 6,000-square-foot convenience store and semi-truck pump station.
Mangrum began his State of the City — his first since 2019 — by referencing “the long and winding road” from COVID and other challenges.
“When last we met in 2019, little did we know that a small news item about a virus would so drastically change our world as it has,” Mangrum said.
“COVID has greatly impacted many communities, and Early is no exception. The areas of greatest impact would be tourism, sales tax and COVID-related expenses.”
• Tourism — “As you might suspect, as we entered the lockdown, tourism began to decline. Our hotel tax revenue was reduced by 7.3 percent last year, which was equal to $21,734.”
The community’s hotel industry appears to have been impacted far greater than other sectors, Mangrum said.
• Sales tax — “Our local economy, as you well know, slowed down. We tightened our budget. We slowed spending, like any prudent person would do. Overall the decrease was 5 percent of our total annual sales tax collection, which is about $75,000.”
Mangrum said that’s actually “a small amount compared to what it could be. We do know that the impact on our business was far greater than what it was for us in the city.”
COVID related expenditures — “We spent over $370,000 … the City of Early is eligible for reimbursement of $171,000 from the CARES Act."
The city’s budget was impacted by the COVID expenses in areas including public safety and safety protocols for first responders, sanitization of public areas, overtime and quarantines, and the need for increased signage and public education.
“Because of Early’s continued growth over the last two years, our bounce back from any losses has happened pretty quick,” Mangrum said. “I know it’s not over, but we are going up.”
Mangrum noted that new businesses did open before or during COVID, and “they’re still open.”
Mangrum referenced the city’s partnership with Solaris and the positive impact on sales tax revenue.
Speaking in the video, Police Chief David Mercer and Fire Chief Chad Hill highlighted their departments.
Mangrum noted the work of city employees who worked hard to keep the city supplied with water during February’s severe winter storm.
“As if the COVID impact on the city was not enough, then we had the most unusual event for central Texas in the 41 years that I’ve lived in Brown County: the blizzard of February,” Mangrum said.
Mangrum went on to note other accomplishments including improvements to ball fields and the increased use of technology and social media.
Speaking about the Town Center, Mangrum said the city was able to purchase 65 acres last year just north of Early Boulevard for future development.
The center will “provide an opportunity to build bridges, figuratively and literally, with our neighbors across the bayou,” Mangrum said. “There is the potential for a vehicle and pedestrian bridge that will take some of the pressure off Early Boulevard.”
The center will also “tie the dining, shopping and recreation areas on both sides of the river together,” Mangrum said.
A public hearing for citizens’ input will be held sometime this summer, and construction could potentially begin in the fall of 2022, Mangrum said.
Assistant City Administrator Larry McConn said in the video that potential elements of the center include a par 3 golf course and a mix of multi-family condos, retail shopping and office space, all situated around a pond. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has agreed to stock the pond with fish, McConn said.
There are also plans to build a road behind the businesses off of Early Boulevard, McConn said in the video.
“As we come together today, the long and winding road is still before us, but our position as a city at this time is very favorable,” Mangrum said as he concluded.