Sherman sees challenges, successes in 2020

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
The city of Sherman reached a development agreement with developers of a new 288-acre development along FM 1417 in December. the mixed-use development could feature retail alongside residential uses.

For the city of Sherman, and many cities like it, 2020 has been a difficult year and one unlike any seen before it. Despite these difficulties, which include the COVID-19 pandemic, city leaders said Sherman still had a successful year.

Looking back, city leaders said the best way to describe 2020 was a year of challenges in a variety of ways ranging from uncertain finances to the logistics of navigating a global pandemic. Ultimately, the city was able to weather this storm, officials said.

"I would say (it was) challenging and it's not just from the direct effect of COVID," City Manager Robby Hefton said. "You can point to what effects it had on our financial situation. What impact did it have operationally with employees who themselves had COVID, or had family members with COVID?"

In describing 2020, Hefton said there is no way to summarize the year without mentioning the pandemic, which led many businesses to shutter their doors for multiple months earlier this year. In many ways, the pandemic effected nearly everything.

"If you doing a headline to encapsulate 2020, COVID would have to be in the caption somehow," Hefton said.

In the early days of the pandemic, Hefton said the city was forecasting a decline in its sales tax revenues due to many businesses shutting down. At its worst, city officials anticipated that the shortfall could have been 15 percent.

Instead, the city saw a modest increase over the previous year, Hefton said.

"There were months that were down compared to the previous year," he said. "Overall, looking at the totality of 2020, financially things weren't as gloomy as we predicted."

Hefton in part attributed the lighter blow to Sherman's big-box retail stores, which saw a strong year despite the downturn. In previous months, city officials referred to this as the "big four" retailers, who say significant increases in sales early in the pandemic.

While revenues ultimately did not take a significant hit, the city still took steps to ensure economic stability by adjusting its budget to account. Likewise, some open staff positions were intentionally left vacant until just recently.

City officials said Sherman ultimately ended 2020 in the black despite early budget fears due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The one revenue sources that remains in question is property taxes. Most of the assessments were conducted early into the pandemic, and it may be next 2021 before the true impact is seen.

Hefton noted that the city of Sherman continued to see retail and restaurant development, with Panda Express, McDonalds and QuikTrip, among others, either opening or starting development in 2020.

While some of these projects were already in development when the epidemic began, he said he did not expect the progress to slow down. Citing the old adage that "retail follows rooftops," Hefton said the city has continued to see residential demand and it is only a matter of time before retail follows.

City officials said Sherman is slated to end the year with 296 building permits issued for residential construction, effectively continuing a years-long trend of increasing permits. By comparison, the city issued 225 in 2019.

The one aspect of the building industry that did see an effect of COVID-19 was the supply chain, officials said. Rather than slow construction, however, this just increased the price.

Still, despite the positive outcome to the year, Sherman still has seen its impacts from the pandemic. One of the projects that saw continued development in 2020 was Bel Air Village, a 290-acre mixed-use development along the city's southern border.

The city ended 2020 by signing a multi-million dollar development agreement for the project, which is slated to see nearly $500 million in private development.

Initially, the project was slated to include a hotel and conference center among its more notable features. However, following difficulties by the hospitality industry, this feature may no longer be in the cards.

Despite this, the city also saw progress in the development of its first hotel in nearly 20 years. Albeit, this project, located along Loy Lake Road, has been in development for the better part of a decade.

Aside from Bel Air, which is expected to see some work in 2021, city officials said the opening of the Sherman High School in January will be one of the highlights of next year.  While not a city project, Hefton said Sherman helped build the street infrastructure that will support the site.

"We completed the access to that area of town by opening West Travis Street, which just opened up that entire southwest corridor of town," he said.