ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – The City of Abilene and Mayor Anthony Williams have released the 2023 State of the City address for Abilene. He shared that one of the council’s priorities lies in development, including the new downtown hotel.
The Abilene Downtown Convention Center Hotel has been in the making for 25 years and will open this summer.
“Because of generous donations from the private sector, as well as the state of Texas joining with the City of Abilene… Abilene is going to have an $81 million dollar hotel,” Williams explained.
He added that this is a part of the ten-point economic plan that will help downtown become a place where the city can reap more benefits. In a survey a few years ago, business owners and employees shared this hotel was one of the reasons they were making investments downtown.
“We will an additional $200 million dollar investment in the near downtown area, but the downtown hotel itself provides an additional 125 employees,” Williams added. “I think economic development is the most important thing that we can do because when a woman or a man has the opportunity for a good paying job, that person has dignity.”
Williams shared that Abilene was the first municipality in the state to have a Development Corporation and in the past four and a half years, there have been more jobs added and sustained than the previous 15 years altogether. On top of this, the private sector has also grown.
“There’s been more private sector dollars in the last three years than the previous 31 years,” Williams said. “If you think about going back to two years ago and going forward in a five-year term, there’ll be 700 new jobs in Abilene, Texas, all of which pay more than $45,000 dollars a year.”
In 2013, Abilene had three main sources of water: Ivy, Hubbard and Lake Fort Phantom. In the fall of 2013, Ivy was about to have the inability to produce water, Lake Fort Phantom was 14 feet below the spillway and Hubbard was at less than 20% capacity. Since then, cities in West Texas have worked hard to work on water security.
“Abilene today, because of the good work in recent years, is in a better position for water than any other community in West Texas,” Williams stated. “In fact, there’s enough water for the next 70 years.”
Another thing that is precious to the community is the streets, something Williams said the city administration did not do a good job of taking care of for around three decades.
“Since then, we have invested $123 million dollars in our streets. Some of that is from a bond in ’15, but most of that is money that came from the street maintenance fee,” added Williams.
He said that some of the money from a bond goes to interest, whereas 100% of the money from the street maintenance fee goes to the streets. This year, there will be an investment of $30 million just on Abilene streets.
“And a good thing about the street maintenance fee, unlike a bond, at any time, you can tap the breaks. That fee is renewed every year by the council and so I would encourage the council going forward to continue the street maintenance fee,” Williams said.
A new comp plan will be seen in the future, something Williams explained “is a vision for the city in regards to manage growth.” Former Mayor Grady Barr did a survey in the early 2000s that found 300 acres of empty lots in the core of the city and around 1,100 in total. In response, the City of Abilene has worked with the private sector to incentive more development.
“I would say for future councils, it may be the best opportunity to address the erosion that’s occurred in the last four decades in the core of our city,” said Williams. “And what we’ve done here, is that we have lowered the hurdle for would-be for investors.”
Switching gears to Dyess Air Force Base (AFB), Williams shared that the new B-21 will make its way to Abilene in the late 2020s or early 2030s, which will represent $60 million additional dollars for Abilene.
“The work we’ve done with the Military Affairs Committee, the MAC, is trying to extend the life of the B-1 and were hopeful that the work with the B-1 and that life will extend until we transition and have the opportunity for the B-21,” shared Williams.
In the past, Abilene has been successful in providing a culture and environment for the Air Force. Something that sparked the Air Force award for communities that respond to the needs of airmen to be renamed the ‘Abilene Award.’
“We want to continue the work of assisting the airmen, those who protect and serve this community,” Williams added.
In the future, residents will be able to weigh in on a possible bond for a new recreational center as the newest operating rec center is more than 50 years old.
“I would encourage you to think about the way we retain and recruit talent,” Willams expressed. “More and more young professionals have an expectation for the quality of life.”
Williams has been a council member for 21 and a half years and will not be running in the upcoming election. He left a few words for the future mayor, council members and residents of Abilene.
“I’ve certainly enjoyed being mayor. I love Abilene, Texas. Abilene, Texas, has been very good to me and I hope as mayor, you praise the work that I have done that’s worthy of this community,” Williams expressed. “I think I have done well as mayor, in fact, I would say I probably have been a better mayor than a husband to my wife.”
He said the reason why the city of Abilene has thrived is because of good men and women who have stepped forward to serve, something he is grateful for.
“It’s a tremendous sacrifice being on the council. We do this all for free. We volunteer our time and in this world of social media and just the nature of the time that we live in, it is tough,” Williams added. “All that said, I want to encourage the good women and men of this community to raise your hand and serve… I wish you well, I wish this community well and I’ll just say to you, my neighbors, godspeed to you.”
Visit the City of Abilene’s Youtube or Facebook page to watch the full 2023 State of the City address for Abilene.