By Courtland Holman, Executive Director, Freeport Economic Development Corporation
In a previous Expansion Solutions Magazine article featuring Freeport, Texas, I emphasized that ‘Freeport Stayed Open for Business’, and to this day the city is still open – despite the challenges of the Covid-19 Pandemic and its effect on businesses. The City of Freeport functions well and staffing has not stopped. Although we the city faced many challenges, business of all types continues to operate, and opportunities are available to those that want the opportunity to pursue Freeport.
Due to our location along the Gulf of Mexico within the Houston MSA, the City of Freeport continues to attract industrial companies looking for a location in a community with a deep-water port. To that end, Port Freeport is deepening its channel to 56 feet and will allow larger Panamax ships traveling from Asian markets through the Panama Canal to access these facilities.
Freeport’s Gulf of Mexico location is one of the deepest areas and highly accessible. Port Freeport is rapidly expanding to take advantage of the new market and has recently added a master-planned, 288-acre rail-served logistic park that is shovel-ready with soil stabilized and rail installed.
The City’s industrial base continues to grow attracting thousands of highly qualified employees to the industrial complexes; thus, the daytime population within a few miles of downtown mushrooms to well over 75,000 people. This is boon for Freeport’s and surrounding cities, retailers and restaurants, as they take advantage of the success and expansion of its manufacturing base.
Investment of infrastructure continues to be a priority with the Texas Department of Transportation expanding Highway 36 into a four-lane highway through Freeport to I-69, which is currently under construction in certain segments. The bridge on FM 1495 along the Brazos River into downtown is scheduled to be demolished and rebuilt starting at the end of this year. The former two-lane bridge will be built into four lanes. These two projects that connect will allow an easier transportation of goods serving as an easier port for Brian Beach access.
What is not keeping pace with industrial growth… is the development of housing and retail.
Freeport used to be known for its shrimping fleets; however, over time along with fluctuations in the economy the industry disappeared. Compounding the loss of the shrimping industry, sister cities along nearby highways grew along with their retail businesses and new housing markets that were traditionally located in Freeport.
Like any aging community that did not keep up with the change in the economy eventually led to a loss of retail development in Freeport’s downtown district and to some degree on its major transportation corridors. Fast forward from the robust days in the 1960 to now has shown a sharp decline in retail throughout the city. There is no good reason for this to have occurred due to the number of residents and daytime population in Freeport, other than who had a hand on the tiller guiding Freeport.
A change in leadership was requested by citizens within the city demanding that Freeport change and re-invent itself.
As of October 2019, the city council and the Freeport Economic Development Corporation (FEDC) has made a concerted effort in hiring staff experts in their fields such as a new City Manager, Assistant City Manager/Finance Director, a Professional Economic Developer, HR Director and recently Public Works Director to redevelop and enhance the City with a concerted focus on the Downtown.
With that in mind, Freeport’s new city council started hiring specialists to reshape the community. The new city manager, various city staff, and economic development executive director for the Freeport Economic Development Corporation have made great strides within that last 16 months to reverse the course of Freeport’s retail decline and incentivize development.
Many housing developments and housing rehabilitation projects with local builders are underway, and the city is now attracting housing developers from within the Houston MSA to find locations to build new housing within Freeport.
In June of 2020, after months of public meetings, the city approved a new Downtown Zoning that tripled its size and redrafted the code that will now incentivize four-story, mixed-used developments. It is the intent of the new Downtown to have retail and some offices on the bottom floor with residential live/work units on the upper floors.
The FEDC and the city are working towards a Downtown Revitalization Plan that includes metrics to rehabilitate the downtown beginning in the next fiscal budget year. The Downtown Assessment by Retail Strategies has been completed and was presented at the FEDC board meeting on July 14, 2020.
One of the main incentives for investment in Freeport is our designated ‘Opportunity Zone’ and New Market Tax Credit area that will allow developers and business owners to offset their development costs. The city will be requesting an expansion from the State Texas for the Opportunity Zone and NMTC into the downtown south of 2nd street as this would be an added catalyst of funding sources and incentives to tremendously revive Freeport.
The community’s concerted efforts are starting to take effect as developers are touring downtown. One new business operation has seen the vision and is now under construction investing just under $1 million to rehabilitate four buildings on East Park with the intent of acquiring more buildings for other retail venues.
There are other reasons why Redeveloping Freeport’s Downtown is a great investment, but in the end, Freeport wants its business to be successful and gets the job done ‘together’.
If mixed-use development or retail is in your playbook give us a call. We would be happy to show that you can succeed here in Freeport, Texas.