A citizen recently asked me if the economic development at FM 407 and FM 2499 in Highland Village is considered a “success”. This was one of those times when I had to pause and think clearly about my answer. How do you define success of something as diverse as retail development in Highland Village? There have certainly been challenges along the way to success of economic development in Highland Village. As many who have spoken to me about serving in municipal government know, I like to say that the wheels of government can at times turn slowly.
The economic downturn has certainly had wide reaching effects on Highland Village as well as most government entities. This begins and ends with the real estate downturn. In Highland Village, ad valorem property tax revenue has always been the main source of revenue for city operations. No one could have predicted five years ago that our ad valorem receipts would decrease. This decrease made budget time more difficult. If there was not economic/retail development, Highland Village certainly would have seen decreases in services, increases in property taxes or both.
“Economic diversity has been a primary objective of Council – recognizing that with the City approaching build-out, we no longer could rely on the additional revenues brought by growth in the tax base. Economic development and the resulting sales tax revenue we now receive supplant these revenues – allowing the City to avoid increased property taxes, and still provide the high service levels expected by Highland Village residents,” said City of Highland Village Finance Director Ken Heerman.
This has not been the case. Ad valorem property tax rates have remained the same in Highland Village for nine years. Through that time, we have increased police and fire personnel. We have also expanded facilities with our municipal services center and the Duvall Center. Sales tax receipts, including our half cent 4B sales tax, have allowed continued development of our trail system and the acquisition of the Doubletree Ranch. Our ½ cent sales tax contribution to the DCTA has kept Highland Village engaged in transportation options for the future. The A-train comes online this year at the Highland Village/Lewisville Lake station.
Would these accomplishments have taken place without retail development at FM 407 and FM 2499? The answer to that question is: Probably not all of them. It took strong leadership and intense discussion and negotiation to develop the western edge of Highland Village. Former Highland Village Mayor, Bill Lawrence, said, “The FM 407/FM 2499 east and west corners represented Highland Village’s last opportunity for successful economic development. Therefore, as a council and city we had to get it right… Whatever we put out there had to work. We knew that solid retail anchor stores such as a Barnes & Noble Bookstore and a Wal-Mart Super Store work!” These developments were not embraced initially by the entire community, but the end results have been a true positive for Highland Village as well as surrounding communities. Increasing dining, entertainment, and shopping opportunities should be considered a successful endeavor.
In speaking with colleague and former Mayor Dianne Costa on this issue, she adds “Without a doubt I would consider the economic development a success. Success means different things to each of us. For me, success is measured in more than dollars and cents. The developments have brought a sense of unity not just among the citizens but among the small business owner and the national retailers. While some local and national businesses have had to close the doors they worked so hard to open, others together have weathered the storm of the construction delays of 2499 and the economic downturn. This pioneer spirit has bound them together in hope of the future. We as citizens of Highland Village can be proud of what past and present councils, staff, developers and retailers have done to make us a city that has it all.”
Not all businesses have survived the economic downturn. That being said, the developments continue to fill out with a wide variety of retailers, restaurants, and entertainment options. The City of Highland Village will continue to meet economic challenges head on. The Highland Village Business Association (HVBA) is one of the tools created to support our businesses and bring citizen awareness. HVBA member and former council member and Mayor Austin Adams shares, “During this tougher economy, the City has applied a philosophy of providing a hand up rather than a hand out to encourage business results, to assisting with events and activities within the retail areas, and promoting general awareness of retail options through marketing plans.”
Highland Village wants to continue to be inviting and “open for business”. Balancing the role of government with the free market economy will be an ongoing challenge for this and future city councils. So thanks to my colleagues past and present who have provided strong leadership on economic development in Highland Village. After consideration of the entire economic development process in the last ten years in Highland Village, I think it should be considered a resounding “success”.