When area officials broke ground on the new Hilton Garden Inn and Texoma Event Center Thursday, it was, in many ways, the end of a long and often arduous process. The project in its final form took "two years of hard work," according to Al Denson, the Dallas investor behind the construction.

When area officials broke ground on the new Hilton Garden Inn and Texoma Event Center Thursday, it was, in many ways, the end of a long and often arduous process. The project in its final form took "two years of hard work," according to Al Denson, the Dallas investor behind the construction.


Going further back, one could say the groundbreaking was the culmination of eight years of tireless work by Denison city leaders to cultivate the intersection of U.S. Highway 75 and Highway 691 into a job-generating, tax-base-increasing, economic engine that will anchor the city’s south side for generations.


Going further back still, Thursday’s event could be seen as the fulfillment of a 14-year dream by local businessman Tom Johnson, who started purchasing property and clearing vegetation at the site back before the dawn of the new millennium.


But Johnson and city authorities said Texoma’s new conference center isn’t the fulfillment of a dream so much as a way station on a path to something much bigger.


"This hotel-conference center will become the main anchor for the west side of the highway, the same way Texoma Medical Center is the anchor for the east side," said Johnson. "We expect to see a lot of things built up around it now."


The plan for the property at the highly-visible highway intersection includes both residential and commercial components, Johnson explained, and the first phase of construction will include a little of both. Several pads reserved for restaurants and stores around the Hilton are already being shopped to entrepreneurs, said Denison Development Alliance President Tony Kaai.


"It’s a big partnership between the city and Tom," said Kaai. "The way he’s got this laid out is a ‘lifestyle center,’ instead of just a strip mall."


Johnson elaborated: "We’ve already got several prospects now for restaurants and other tenants that would like to either be around the hotel/conference center or around the hospital."


The second phase of development will begin in earnest on Monday night at the Denison City Council Meeting. At that time, the Council will hold a public hearing on the annexation of Johnson’s land, 427 acres in total. Of that parcel, 34 acres at the intersection of Loy Lake Road and Seymore Bradley Road will be the first to see houses.


Johnson anticipates beginning construction on the tract later this year. The 34 acres will be divided into half-acre lots for high-end homes, he said.


When all is said and done some years down the line, the development Johnson calls "Gateway Village" will boast baseball fields, hiking trails and a "Village Center" with abundant retail.


"He wants it to be a higher-end retail center," said Kaai. "Something like they’ve got in Allen — the new market street where you’ve got apartments and you walk around the streets and feel like you’re in a little town."


For its part, the City will reimburse the developer for public infrastructure improvements through a Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone.


"When we started this (by donating the land on which the Cigna building was built), I’d never heard of a city and private developer working together like we did," said Johnson. "But I was able to donate the land, they were able to bring the jobs in and provide an incentive. So now we’ll just continue to develop."


Kaai stressed that Gateway Village — and the jobs and tax-base improvements that come with it — won’t happen overnight.


"It’s a long-term plan, but at least there is a plan," he said. "But (the conference center) is a huge step forward in making all that happen."