The last year was a busy one for the city of Sherman and one that will leave a lasting impact. The city saw some major companies announce plans to put down roots in town and city leadership spent much of 2017 working on projects that will help those companies and the area's citizens for years to come.
Finisar and Apple
Finisar Corp., the new owner of the former MEMC building, announced plans to create 500 new high-skill jobs in Sherman in December as part of a more than $100 million capital investment that will see the company manufacturing components locally for Apple and its iPhone products.
Finisar, an optical communications components manufacturer, is planning to increase its production of vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers by updating the Sherman facility, which has sat vacant since MEMC closed its doors in 2011.
“We're going to build some pretty enormous capacity for us, but I will tell you Apple is really excited about these applications,” Finisar Chief Executive Officer Jerry S. Rawls said.
Apple is awarding Finisar with $390 million from its Advanced Manufacturing Fund to increase the development and production of VCSEL arrays. Finisar currently produces VCSEL arrays in its Allen facility and believes the addition of the Sherman facility will give it the ability to ship millions of VCSEL arrays.
Multi-million dollar developments
Schulman's Movie Bowl Grille announced plans in October to open an entertainment complex on Sherman's southside that will employ between 150 and 175 people.
The entertainment center will be part of a planned full development of the 22-acre tract of land Sherman has been marketing on the southeast corner of U.S. Highway 75 and FM 1417 for the past two years. The facility is expected to encompass 63,189 square feet and will feature multiple bowling lanes, eight movie screens offering dine-in viewing, various gaming choices and dining options through a Billy's Grille and Bar.
“This is a very exciting opportunity for our company,” owner Mark Schulman said. “We're glad to be a part of your community. We're working fast. We don't have an end date today because we're moving mountains and once we get past the mountains, we'll get to the rocks and the pebbles.”
City staff said the commercial and retail center development is expected to bring around $25 million in capital investments to the location and generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual sales tax revenue for Sherman.
The council later approved the execution of a professional services agreement with H.W. Lochner Inc. for engineering design work for the reversal of the northbound U.S. Highway 75 entrance and exit ramps immediately south of FM 1417. With commercial developments planned for the northwest and southeast corners of the intersection of Hwy. 75 and FM 1417, city staff said the current design of the entrance and exit ramps would be an impediment to the success of those developments.
In November, Sherman hired a construction manager-at-risk for the planned relocation of its Blalock Park Fire Station No. 4 to the Progress Park industrial area of the city. That station is currently on the southeast corner of U.S. Highway 75 and FM 1417 where the Schulman's development is planned.
The Sherman Police Department started the year under the guidance of Chief Zachary Flores following the announced “retirement” of former Chief Otis Henry the previous month, but new details emerged in early January that Henry was asked to step down.
In a written statement, City Manager Robby Hefton said Henry decided to retire from the department after the city manager asked him to take on a “different role” with the force.
“First and foremost, I want to reiterate that the City of Sherman owes a debt of gratitude to Otis Henry for three decades of service to our extraordinary police department,” Hefton said in his statement. “However, after assessing the needs of the Sherman Police Department and speaking with numerous former and current members of SPD, it became clear that a change was necessary due to deficiencies in his leadership.”
Henry later filed suit against the city in federal district court for removing him from his position because of his age.
A number of Sherman Police officers attended the City Council's first meeting of February to express support for Flores and thank the council for approving his hire.
“I work for the city, I'm a police officer and there are several of us here,” Sgt. Sam Boyle said to the council in reference to the officers standing in the back of the council chambers during Monday's meeting. “We would like to extend our appreciation and gratitude to each and every one of you. We know that there's been some recent changes and we appreciate those changes. We'd also like to express our support for all of you for our new chief and for any future endeavors the city and all of you might decide to embark on. We look forward to continuing to serve you and the citizens of the city.”
$6 million bond issuance
Following the annexation of 459.6 acres of land on the city's west side in May, the council unanimously approved a bond issuance of $6,065,000 through the Greater Texoma Utility Authority in June for the construction of water and wastewater infrastructure throughout the city as well as repair work on the Gallagher water tower.
“It is mostly for our in-house utility projects, such as Preston Club water line, the Taylor-Washington Street water, Travis Street water, Canyon Creek wastewater, Swan Ridge wastewater, Gallagher tower painting and repair,” Director of Finance Mary Lawrence said.
In addition to the work Lawrence listed, a document prepared by city staff for the council stated funds from the bond issuance will also help pay for utilities infrastructure in the High Country Estates area, as well as on Lamberth Road West and Highway 56 West.
Sherman issued $4 million in certificates of obligation in November to improve flood control and fund stormwater projects needed in the city. The $4 million in bonds is $3 million less than was originally approved for issue by the council.
When the $7 million bond issuance was discussed by the council in September, city staff said land acquisitions, detention ponds, drainage improvements and an update to the floodplain map were among the projects expected to be undertaken with the funds. City Manager Robby Hefton said the funds could also be used for increasing drainage capacities through culverts and similar projects.
In a document prepared for the council, city staff said the bonds would be repaid through funds collected through the city's stormwater utility fee collected on utility bills. The stormwater fee, which was adopted during 2017, collects $1 per month from customers with one equivalent residential unit, which works out to 3,400 square feet of impervious area. Customers with less than that amount of impervious area on their property pay less than $1 and those with more pay per equivalent residential unit that they have on their property. City staff estimate the fee will bring in $458,000 per year for infrastructure projects.
After nearly eight years with the city, Sherman said goodbye to Assistant City Manager Don Keene in June. The Sherman native left the city to become principal at Whitesboro Middle School.
“It has truly been a blessing to serve this community with you people,” Keene said to the nearly 75 staff members and friends gathered in the council chambers. “I think most of you who know me understand that the bottom line is there's some kids and some teachers who need help and I'm going to go help them.”
Days later, Sherman announced Steve Ayers had been named the city's assistant city manager in mid-June.
“Steve is a man of honor and integrity who has built a sterling reputation during his 27 years working for the citizens of Sherman,” Hefton said in a press release. “I have tremendous faith in his judgment, his skills as a manager, and his heart for serving others. Steve has some very big shoes to fill with Don's departure, and I am confident he will fill them admirably.”
In December, Sherman contracted with former council member Terrence Steele to serve as the city's new director of administration. The city hired Steele through a 12-month contract with Strategic Government Resources, an administrative management consulting group. As part of his new role, Steele will be assisting Sherman's existing management staff oversee day-to-day operations of the city.
“I have been so blessed to watch this city grow and blossom over the course of my time here, and I was incredibly honored to help shepherd that growth as a public servant,” Steele said in the press release. “It is my hope that this new role will allow me to bring to bear the skills I have learned over the course of my career to better our great city and ensure that we never lose track of our character as we continue to grow.”
City voters elected new council members Josh Stevenson and Daron Holland, as well as returning council member Willie Steele, in November. Stevenson won the District 2 seat vacated by Terrence Steele and Holland, who ran unopposed, took the place of Charles H. Brown Sr., who also chose not to seek re-election. Willie Steele won the special municipal election for the at-large, Place 1 seat after being appointed to the position in September after former council member Kevin Couch resigned to run for state representative for District 62.