Prison leaving Sugar Land?

January 7, 2009 5:26:10 PM PST
It's something some people have been wanting for years. A big state prison unit in Sugar Land could be moved. City officials are pushing state legislatures for help. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

Hundreds of prisoners could be sent to a new location. We are getting mixed reaction from people who live near the prison. Some are concerned about what may be built in place of the prison.

The Central Unit sits on more than 300 acres off Highway 90 near the Sugar Land Airport. The Department of Criminal Justice has operated the prison for more than 100 years. There are currently 1,200 minimum security inmates housed there. But the city of Sugar Land wants them moved elsewhere.

"We believe the property has a much higher purpose and value to the state of Texas to be utilized for economic development purposes," said Sugar Land City Manager Allen Bogard.

The city wants to acquire the property. It has already zoned it to be developed as a light industrial commercial business park. Portions could be aviation related business. The property is adjacent to Sugar Land's regional airport.

The city asked the state to do a study to determine how feasible it would be to move the prison and how costly it would be to do so. So TDCJ is looking into whether it's best to leave the facility as is, build a new one, or maybe rent bed space elsewhere.

"Whatever scenario legislators were to decide, we would need to make sure that we have those beds made up somewhere else," said Michelle Lyons with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

The warden says around 500 people are employed at the central unity. Those would be jobs he says would be either relocated or lost.

Those who live in the nearby neighborhoods wouldn't mind moving the prison out of their back yards.

"It would definitely make it much more safe," said resident Suehash Gupta. "We know it's not a high-security prison, but still."

Gupta remembers March of 2007 when an inmate escaped and spent 24 hours on the run.

"It's pretty frightening," he said.

Still, some worry that transforming this property into a commercial business park could allow sexually oriented businesses like strip clubs to open there.

"I would hate to see that happen, in which case, prison's fine with me," said Homeowner Sherrie Strickland.

City leaders say that would never happen, that sexually oriented businesses aren't allowed in Sugar Land.

TDCJ, meantime, says its feasibility study is nearly complete. It's expecting to release findings from that study sometime late this week or early next week. Then it's up to legislators to decide the best use for the land.

The nearby Sugar Land regional airport recently received a $2 million federal grant for airport development that could help them buy a portion of the property. We'll be watching what goes on when the Texas legislature meets and let you know what happens.

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