Despite a pandemic, Lisa Denton, Palestine's new Economic Development Corporation Executive, has accomplished a great deal of good for the city in her first six months at the helm, focusing on expanding affordable housing, retail business and recreational and entertainment options.
Taking the reins in May, Denton has already negotiated several big projects that include housing and retail development.
"2020 has been a difficult year, nonetheless, it has proven to be a year of growth for Palestine," Denton said.
These projects often take time to develop, even after the initial negotiations and contracts are signed. Social media is filled with questions about the progress or lack there of on many of these projects, like Starbucks, Panda Express and the sale and revitalization of the Palestine Mall. In a recent interview, Denton shared updates on retail recruitments, expansions and the PEDC Downtown Grant Program.
The 2020 PEDC recruitment and expansions included:
Wildwood Development LLC is constructing a new office facility for the State of Texas Department of Health and Human Services and Child Protective Services in the Willow Creek Business Park. PEDC conveyed 5.599 acres of land to the project. In return, the development will bring $3,100,000 in capital investment, and 50 retained full time positions, with 26 new full time positions to be created. The offices will relocate from their existing location at 330 E Spring St., Suite B & D. The facility is under construction.
Fikes Wholesale Inc. will be constructing a new CEFCO Travel Center at Tile Factory Road and West Oak St. This project will also include a Huddle House Restaurant. Total investment is anticipated to be $3,750,000. While initial plans were to have site work underway, the company is currently working with Atmos on a gas line relocation. Work is expected to begin sometime this month.
New Urban Development constructed the new Chick-Fil-A restaurant located at 2000 S. Loop 256. This project had an anticipated capital investment of $3,184,000. With just under 6,000 vehicles converging on opening weekend, the opening was, and continues to be, a great success.
Tahwahkaro Distilling Company closed on the purchase of the former Coors facility at 100 N. Church St. Voters anxiously welcomed the distillery with a strong show of support for the charter amendment necessary to allow the company to sell their product at the location, which sat just outside the previously approved area for liquor sales. The Company plans to invest $4,200,000 and create 13 jobs, over a five year period. Construction is underway, with hopes of opening in March. This project is not only adding to the tax rolls and creating jobs, but has added Palestine to the Texas Whiskey Trail, which will create a large impact on our tourism economy. The owners are excited to create a destination location for the distillery, and we are excited and honored to be a part of their growth.
SCC Palestine Partners has recently closed the purchase/sale of multiple properties located in the 2200 block of S Loop 256, across from Wal-Mart. The new development will bring Starbucks, Panda Express and Tidal Wave Car Wash, along with an additional full service restaurant, to be announced soon. This project has a total capital investment of $6,893,000, exclusive of the additional restaurant, and is expected to create over 40 new jobs. While the property has closed, the homeowners have a 60 day lease back. Construction is expected to begin sometime after Monday, Feb. 15. Construction plans for Panda Express have already been approved. Others are under review by Development Services.
The City and PEDC continue to move forward on the sale of the Palestine Mall to Christon Company, who has big plans for redevelopment of the property. Both entities approved a Fourth Amendment to the Sale Agreement in December, which extended the timeline to Monday, March 15. At that time, the City also approved moving forward with work related to pursue closure under TCEQ rules and requirements on this property. There are several moving pieces to this project, and while it is taking more time than anyone would like, the developer has had interest from national retailers, and we are hopeful to have this transaction tied up by the end of the first quarter of 2021.
Willow Creek Apartment Homes was completed and fully opened in early 2020, and is maintaining 95-100% occupancy. This project added 132 modern style apartment units, on nine acres, at 100 Damon Allen Way, just off S Loop 256, with a total capital investment of $7,800,000.
The Overlook Lifestyle Apartment Homes has purchased just over 15 acres of property on E Loop 256, with plans to construct 152 new apartment units in phase I. This portion of the project is expected to have a capital investment of $13,000,000. Phase 2 is expected to bring an additional 40 units to the complex. The Developer is finalizing closing documents and construction plans have been approved.
With help from the PEDC Downtown Grant Program, the Main Street area has seen the following improvements:
• 710 W Main St. Sloan Shuffler, Lisa Priest and Kat Graser remodeled an old car dealership shop building to reflect a hip, historic downtown vibe. They relocated Sloan’s CPA office and Picket Fence Realty to the building in March of 2020. A follow up project added small, upscale loft-inspired apartments to the property. Total capital investment was $195,000 with a PEDC grant of $75,000.
• 105 E Main St. Mark Stoup and Kaycee Hamilton renovated a facility, originally constructed in 1910 and home to Kelly’s Grocery, which now houses Posh Paws Dog Grooming. Total capital investment in the project was $38,840 with a PEDC grant of $19,420.
• 704 W Main St. Martha Hunt is renovating a location for her new restaurant, Mr. T’s Food for Tha Soul. Total investment of $15,836 with a PEDC grant of $7,120.
• 315 W Oak St. Mollard Properties Ltd. has undertaken extensive renovations to bring this property back to its front entrance design from the 1950s. The original expenditure, anticipated to reach $78,917, will actually see Mollard Properties investing even more into the project, to restore this property back to its historic roots. The location will house new offices in downtown Palestine. The project received a PEDC grant of $39,459.
This is just the beginning for Denton, who prior to coming to Palestine, Denton worked with a commercial retail development advisory firm for the Texas-Oklahoma market, when the coronavirus hit. She realized just how much she missed economic development.
Denton served as executive director of Athens Economic Development Corporation from January 2015 to July 2019. From 2004 to 2014, she worked as the assistant director for Kilgore Economic Development Corporation.
Denton believes it is her experience with a similar-sized community, requiring similar skills for comparable markets, that made her the right fit for Palestine.
A graduate of Texas A&M University’s Texas Engineering & Extension Services, she is certified as an economic development master practitioner, an economic development finance professional, a community and economic developer, and a business and expansion professional.