Realtors, homebuilders and bankers gathered in the council chambers Thursday morning to hear an overview of what is happening in Waxahachie and the role played by the local government.

Mayor Ron Wilkinson welcomed the guests to City Hall and gave a few remarks about the state of the economy.

“Even though the country is suffering economically right now I don’t think that there is a better place to live than in the Dallas/ Fort Worth area. We are very fortunate to live in one of the areas that is the least impacted by this downturn,” Wilkinson said.

“Dallas and Fort Worth are great places to do business but Waxahachie is even better. When recovery does start to happen I believe that Waxahachie will be the first one to see it,” he said.

Wilkinson reminded the audience that even though times are tough there are still jobs available – telling a story of his father who was a college graduate but when he came to Dallas had only a quarter in pocket and took a job making bricks.

Once the mayor concluded his address, city staff and department heads gave a brief summary of current projects and developments. City Manager Paul Stevens explained how the city is structured and discussed how this year’s budget is considered to be break-even – where revenue would meet expenses.

“When we first made the budget out, we estimated that revenues were going to increase by a figure of 6 percent,” he said. “With current trends, our estimate on revenues is going to have to be adjusted to a lower figure.”

From the budget, Stevens moved onto the two major road construction projects Broadhead and Parks School House roads. Stevens reported that Broadhead has two of its four lanes paved with concrete with crews working on the other two. On Parks School House Road, he said the new road will provide better traffic flow and access for residents and the adjoining school. Broadhead is slated for completion in September with Parks School House in November. Among other projects, the new water plant, second phase of the sports complex and the senior citizens center are slated for completion this year.

Assistant City Manager Michael Scott gave an update on downtown projects.

“The company that we have working on the parking garage, courts and administration building and jail expansion, Balfour Beatty, they are doing a first class job with the caliber of diligence that they are spending on it. It shows a lot of confidence in that they know want they are doing,” Scott said.

“The parking garage is slated for completion in January of 2010, followed by the jail expansion in February and the courts and administration center in May of that same year. The existing county properties around the square are anticipated to be sold … because offices are relocating to the new building,” he said.

Director of downtown development Anita Williamson spoke to the audience about the city acquiring the Texas Theater and railroad depot as well as other development projects in the downtown area.

The city bought the theater to prevent it from being turned into office space and to bring an entertainment element to downtown to spur redevelopment, she said, noting that the depot was purchased after a 20-year effort acquires it. Bids are being requested for someone to manage the theater and for the restoration of the depot.

“Other projects that have helped development have been the restoration of the freight depot by the Nay Construction Company and the large expansion of the feed store,” Williamson said. “It is almost a $1 million investment in the downtown area.”

Director of planning Clyde Melick said the current population of Waxahachie is at 30,216 residents, representing an average growth of 3 percent.

Doug Barnes, director of economic development told audience members about different private development that is coming or has been completed within the city limits.

Barnes said businesses such as Best Buy, TaMolly’s Showbiz, La Quinta and Buffalo Wild Wings are some of stores that are newly or soon to be open. He also pointed out that cities can’t have commercial without industrial and explained the possibilities being created.

“DART Container has been in our community for a number of years and they are making expansions to be here for the future. Recently they have completed the purchase of the former Tyler Refrigeration building for use for warehousing and future production line expansion,” Barnes said.

“Along with DART, the Walgreens Distribution Center has just completed its 1,000 square foot expansion. They were also awarded large employer of the year by the Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities for their continued effort to hire employees with disabilities,” he said.

E-mail Andrew at andrew.branca@wninews.com/