BELTON — This growing city is making progress on 22 projects — ranging from multi-million-dollar infrastructure ventures that may spur economic development to quality of life-focused endeavors, such as new parks.
City leaders recently checked out those projects on a four-hour tour that was spread over nearly 35 miles.
“Twenty years ago, we could have done this tour in an hour,” said Councilman Wayne Carpenter, who is in the middle of his 10th overall term on Belton’s decision-making body.
Two decades ago, Belton did not have 22,078 residents — it had 14,664 people. Two decades ago, there was no such thing as Interstate 14. And, two decades ago, this city was not bracing for a population boom that may reach 35,000 people by 2030.
Managing that growth has been the impetus of these projects.
To capitalize its prime location at the intersection of Interstates 35 and 14, the city has focused on cultivating South Belton — an area full of empty land ripe for development.
Belton is betting big on a pair of projects — the construction of a new sewer and water line along I-35 — to ignite the economic potential of its southern extremities.
But luring new business is not the sole goal for Belton’s leaders. They are focused on improving quality of life — residents’ top priority — by extending its sweeping trail network, creating new neighborhood parks and transforming a former golf course into its largest park.
‘99 percent complete’
“Who has never seen a manhole before?” Angellia Points, public works director, asked with excitement in her voice.
The City Council peered down a 14-foot-deep manhole at the corner of Capitol Way and Grove Road.
Water rushed by. Inside, the hole is coated in a light blue epoxy made with fiberglass.
“This is a very clean manhole. They don’t normally look this way,” Points said as the manhole cover clanked as it was set on the ground.
“It doesn’t look at all like ‘Ninja Turtles,’” Cynthia Hernandez, Belton Economic Development Corp. executive director, joked, referring to the popular “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” series.
This manhole is part of the South Belton sewer project. The new sewer lines stretch from Holland Road, follow Loop 121 and ends around the manhole city leaders examined.
“This project is, I would say, 99 percent complete,” Points said, explaining the contractor, Killeen-based McLean Construction, shaved about $200,000 off the project’s cost of $2.55 million.
Those savings will be used for the next phase of the sewer extension. That undertaking is estimated to cost $4.14 million. It will allow Belton to provide nearly 1,800 acres with sewage service.
Eventually, the sewer will stretch from Holland Road to near the Lampasas River.
“When developers want to come in, they’re going to want water and sewer lines,” Mayor Marion Grayson said last year.
The water lines to which Grayson referred will be built by the Belton EDC. That project will cost an estimated $1.2 million.
‘Take a deep breath’
Once the South Belton sewer is complete and developers are lured to the area, all of that wastewater has to go somewhere — the Temple-Belton Wastewater Treatment Plant.
The plant is jointly owned by the cities of Belton and Temple, and managed by the Brazos River Authority. It is undergoing a $47 million three-phase expansion.
“Take a deep breath,” Points said, inhaling as the tour stopped on the side of FM 93, where the plant is located. “It smells great.”
A concrete structure is currently under construction. It is the first phase of the plant’s expansion. This is where the wastewater treatment plant’s new headworks will be located.
The headworks are a series of large screens that separate solid material from the wastewater.
The first phase will not expand the facility’s treatment capacity. Instead, it will allow the plant to shutter its original headworks. Decades of use have deteriorated the equipment, turning the concrete into a Play-Doh-like substance.
“Wastewater is inherent with gases, and the gases are corrosive. This unit has been here for almost 30 years, and over the course of those 30 years, the gases have started to deteriorate the concrete,” the plant’s chief operator, Randy Lock, previously told the Telegram.
Work on the new headworks is almost done, Points said, estimating it to be 85 percent complete.
The second phase will expand the facility’s wastewater capacity. Lock said it should allow the plant to keep pace with the area’s growth through at least 2035. Belton’s share of the second phase is estimated to be $8.8 million.
Equine Center creating buzz
These infrastructure projects may not be complete, but the city already is seeing interest in South Belton from developers.
“Right across the street from the (Bell County Expo Center) … is the proposal for the additional two hotels,” City Manager Sam Listi said. “They’re talking to us right now. The equestrian center really is creating some buzz.”
The Expo Center’s new $24.6 million equine and livestock complex is a 220,000-square-foot facility with an 800-seat performance arena, a warm-up arena with horse stalls, and a bar and grill.
The facility has become the envy of other counties, Bell County Commissioner Bobby Whitson said recently.
Tim Stephens, Expo Center executive director, said last week nearly every weekend at the facility is booked for the rest of the year.
The Expo Center expansion has spurred a bevy of recreational vehicle developments. In the past year, the Belton City Council saw three RV park proposals and the Temple City Council considered one fueled by the expansion.
Bringing more hotels to Belton has been a top priority for the city. In late 2017, the City Council received a 152-page report that detailed the strengthens and weaknesses of the city’s hotel market.
As work continues to ignite economic development in Belton, quality-of-life projects — big and small — are picking up steam.
A smaller scale project is transforming the area around the 105-year-old standpipe off of Avenue I.
“The standpipe has been on our radar for quite some time,” Listi said, explaining one option staff considered was turning part of the tract into housing, but passed because it would be too costly.
Instead, the site will become a park.
“There’s not really a neighborhood park in the area,” Listi said.
Matt Bates, parks and recreation director, envisions the site to be an open space — a quality lacking in the city’s parks system, he said.
On the other side of the size scale is Heritage Park — Belton’s largest recreation area. Last year, the City Council more than doubled the size of the park with its $2.1-million purchase of 85.82 acres of the former Leon Valley Golf Course.
The park is now 150 acres.
The Public Works Department has been preparing for the extension of East 24th Avenue — the street that will be the entrance to the Heritage Park addition.
The new road will be 1,500 feet long, and form a T-intersection with River Oaks Drive. Points estimated constructing the new road as well as installing a new water line for the park will cost around $700,000.
Construction is planned to begin sometime this summer, and last around eight months.
That is just the first step toward developing the new Heritage Park grounds. In the coming year, the city will begin to plan how it wants to use the park’s additional 86 acres.
Carpenter, the longtime councilman, has seen Belton transform from a sleepy town with less than 10,000 residents to a bustling and persistently growing city.
“It’s an exciting time to be in Belton,” he said.