It's something people have been wanting for years. Now there are new talks of closing down a big state prison in Sugar Land. The prison near Highway 6 and Highway 90 is near the airport and several neighborhoods.The Central Unit's property abuts the local, regional airport, and sits between the City of Sugar Land and a locally subsidized industrial park down the road. Lately the locals approved building a minor league baseball stadium near the site. In other words, a site that in 1909 was out in the sticks (basically a plantation owned by Imperial Sugar which leased inmate workers from the state) is now in Sugar Land's prime urban growth corridor. A lot of other older state-owned units are in the same boat; shutting some of them and selling the vast swaths of property surrounding them could be a tremendous source of budget relief.
The central prison unit has been a Fort Bend County fixture since 1909, but to nearby homeowners it is an unwelcome neighbor.
Homeowner Yenni Kuncoro said, "I think it's better that the prison is out of the neighborhood area because it's a safety for the children. Also the surrounding neighborhood is more secure."
Now the unit is the subject of discussion at the Capitol in Austin. With the state trying to tighten its belt in the wake of a massive budget shortfall, selling off this prime real estate that sits on 337 acres on Highway 90 is, to some lawmakers, a no brainer.
Rep. Charles Howard said, "There is no question at all that this property is prime potential for development which would bring in more jobs and more value and thus help the city and the county and the state."
Howard is all for the proposed closure of the unit in September, with possible redevelopment as a business park. The city of Sugar Land and local business leaders are also on board.
"There would be generation of additional taxes both for our school district, the county, and the state of Texas if this property was put on the tax rolls," said Sugar Land City Manager Allen Bogard.
RELATED: See a feasibility study (pdf) for relocating the Central Unit published by TDCJ two years ago. At the time, the agency wouldn't contemplate simply closing the facility but instead analyzed three "scenarios" of its own suggestion: Closing the unit and leasing beds, building a new facility nearby, or building a new facility somewhere else. Embracing outright closure by reducing the overall inmate population eliminates most of the complications and costs that the agency used as a fig leaf to claim shutting down the Central Unit wouldn't save money.
See also related Grits posts:
- Sugar Land's Central Unit near top of possible prison closure list
- Dallas, Sugarland locals to TDCJ: Move, please
- Whitmire: Central Unit a "goner"
- Data on TDCJ unit age and cost
- Baseball stadium to be constructed near Central Unit in Sugar Land, will state close facility?
- Central Unit trusty broke out of, and back into prison for shopping trips
- As 2011 budget crisis looms, should most expensive prison units be closed?