• August 1, 2014

Dynamic decade: Central Texas sees growth, turmoil in 2000s

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Posted: Saturday, January 1, 2011 12:00 pm

By Dave Miller

Killeen Daily Herald

It's the first day of 2011, the start of the second decade of the 2000s.

Over the past 10 years, the Killeen-Fort Hood area has seen dynamic change - from the opening of a new airport, a conference center and two recreation centers - to the advent of a new university and dramatic growth in the medical arena.

The area has also seen its share of tragedy, from the horrific shootings of Nov. 5, 2009, at Fort Hood to the spate of soldier suicides that shocked the community last year.

The decade saw political turmoil as well - with a mayor removed from office in Copperas Cove, followed by a recall election that left the city without an effective governing body for more than four months.

Turmoil also was on display in Nolanville, where the city's budget woes led to layoffs of city staff, and a long-term battle between the police chief and some council members resulted in the resignation of the chief and the mayor pro tem.

Despite a nationwide recession in the past two years, the area enjoyed strong economic growth through much of the decade. That boom was evident with the explosion of motels, restaurants and retail establishments along the U.S. Highway 190 corridor.

It was a decade of changing laws, as local cities enacted smoking bans, expanded alcohol sales and installed red-light cameras.

Killeen celebrated its 125th birthday during the decade, but amid the celebration, the city wrestled with a burgeoning crime rate, especially in the category of burglaries.

But perhaps the news event that colored all others in the community were the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With the nearly constant deployments of Fort Hood units overseas, the sacrifices of family members back home and the loss of more than 550 of our Fort Hood soldiers in the line of duty, the wars dominated the news for the last seven years.

Here, then, are the top stories of the decade:

1. War in Iraq, Afghanistan

The world changed with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. For thousands of Fort Hood soldiers and their families, 9/11 set in motion a sequence of events that would take Fort Hood troops into war in Iraq and subsequently Afghanistan.

In March 2003, Fort Hood troops began combat operations in Iraq, By the time combat operations officially ceased last September, more than 500 Fort Hood soldiers had given their lives in service to the nation.

With multiple, yearlong deployments over seven years by both the 1st Cavalry Division and the 4th Infantry Division, along with multiple tours by the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, 13th Sustainment Command and various other units, the Fort Hood community and its families were always mindful of the war half a world away.

During operations in Iraq, Fort Hood soldiers distinguished themselves, helping to capture Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, working to rebuild the nation's infrastructure and leading the transition to a new government. In addition, Gen. Ray Odierno, former 4th Infantry and III Corps commander, was chosen to lead Multinational Forces-Iraq.

Another side of war was seen locally, as well, as the military conducted court-martials at Fort Hood for soldiers charged in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

Though U.S. military operations are winding down in Iraq, Fort Hood units continue to play an important role in the country's transition by advising and assisting Iraqi forces. With much of the military's focus turning to Afghanistan, Fort Hood has seen increased involvement there with the deployment of military police, combat engineers and aviators.

2. Fort Hood shootings

On Nov. 5, 2009, an Army psychiatrist assigned to Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center walked into a processing area at Fort Hood and opened fire. Before the gunman was subdued by two civilian Fort Hood police officers, 12 soldiers and a civilian had lost their lives, and more than 30 others were wounded.

The tragic shooting, which took place almost exactly 18 years after the Luby's restaurant massacre in Killeen, shook the Central Texas community and drew an outpouring of support from around the world.

The accused gunman, Maj. Malik Nadal Hasan, was shot and paralyzed. He was charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of premeditated attempted murder.

Almost a year after the shooting, Hasan was the subject of an Article 32 hearing at Fort Hood. The military official overseeing the hearing subsequently recommended a court-martial and the death penalty for Hasan. A court-martial date has yet to be set.

3. New airport, conference center

Perhaps no two projects did more to bring revenue and visitors to Killeen than the city's regional airport and conference center.

Killeen-Fort Hood Regional Airport, which opened in August 2004, was an $80 million project that featured a state-of-the-art passenger terminal and advanced radar.

The airport shares Robert Gray Army Airfield's 10,000-foot runway. Planning for the military-civilian endeavor began nearly a decade before the airport's opening as local leaders pushed to repeal legislation that prohibited civilian use of the airfield.

With that hurdle cleared, and Military Airport Program funding secured, the project took off. Enplanements have increased steadily since the airport's opening, with more than 200,000 passengers flying out of Killeen last year.

The Killeen Civic and Conference Center opened its doors in April 2002, and soon had more than 150 events booked for the year. Within six years of its opening, the 65,000-square-foot facility was self-sustaining.

The conference center continues to see steady business, from parties and wedding receptions to large conventions. In 2010, the KCCC hosted more than 800 events, drawing in excess of 200,000 people.

4. Texas A&M University-Central Texas

The establishment of Texas A&M University-Central Texas in Killeen has been called the biggest economic development for the Killeen area since the arrival of Fort Hood.

The upper-level, stand-alone university - formerly Tarleton State University-Central Texas - became a part of the A&M University System in 2009, and ground was broken last year for a new campus on more than 670 acres at State Highway 195 at Loop 201.

Partnership agreements with Central Texas College and Temple College will provide a smooth transition for students and a transfer of credits for those continuing their education at TAMU-CT. The university has adopted a logo, school colors and a mascot and is looking to field athletic teams in coming years.

The campus currently has an enrollment of about 2,600 full-time student equivalents. Based on a Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce estimate, 2,500 full-time students would have an impact of $37 million on the local economy and create more than 600 new jobs, directly and indirectly.

5. Medical facilities expansion

The past decade was one of almost continual growth for medical facilities in the area.

Perhaps the largest single development was the designation of Fort Hood's Carl R. Darnall Army Community Hospital as a medical center.

In conjunction with the change, the Pentagon authorized almost $1 billion to build a new hospital complex over the next five years. Ground was broken in 2010 on the site of the former Hood Stadium.

Another major development was the partnership between Metroplex Health System and Scott & White Healthcare. The agreement allows for sharing of resources and physicians, as well as giving area patients more care options.

Both Scott & White and Metroplex grew significantly over the decade, remodeling and enlarging their facilities and increasing services. Scott & White also built and opened several new clinics throughout the Central Texas area. In addition, Scott & White acquired King's Daughters Hospital in Temple and is in the process of transforming it into a children's hospital.

Late last year, LHP Hospital Group of Plano and Seton Family of Hospitals announced plans to partner on an 83-bed hospital and medical office complex in Harker Heights.

The 180,000-square-foot hospital will be built on 22 acres of land just east of the Rosewood Living Center off Central Texas Expressway. It is scheduled for completion by fall 2012.

Also during the decade, Central Texas College constructed a new 80,000-square-foot nursing building on its Killeen campus. The building will be dedicated later this month.

6. Economic growth

The Killeen area's sustained economic growth over the past decade - even in the face of a nationwide recession, was truly remarkable.

As the area's population continued to grow - Killeen was listed as the nation's six-fastest growing city two years ago - the economy kept pace.

Thanks in large part to the influx of federal dollars for Fort Hood, the local economy largely remained robust.

Construction of new hotels dominated the middle years of the decade, as did new housing starts. Both fell off in recent years, but home sales remained relatively strong, even amid a national downturn.

Retail growth was also strong, punctuated by the building of a new Walmart Supercenter and the 82-acre Market Heights shopping complex.

The local community also continued to see a boom in new restaurants, primarily along the U.S. Highway 190 corridor.

The area did have some negative economic news, as retailers Goody's, Circuit City and Lack's closed their doors because of corporate bankruptcies.

Overall, the local economy's strength was impressive, especially in light of the fact that the post was not at full strength for the past seven years - because of continued deployments and the departure of the 4th Infantry Division to Fort Carson, Colo.

7. State veterans cemetery

For years, the nearest veterans cemetery to Central Texas was in Dallas or San Antonio.

That changed in October 2005 with the dedication of the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery, one of seven state cemetery sites approved by the Texas Veterans Land Board.

Built along State Highway 195 south of Killeen, the cemetery features a committal shelter, a visitor's center, a paved assembly area, a memorial walkway and a Fallen Heroes Memorial.

The cemetery has been the site of annual Memorial Day observances, and wreaths are placed on the graves of veterans during between Thanksgiving and New Year's.

It has a capacity for 7,000 burials in the first phase, with an ultimate capacity of 50,000 burials or interments. With its picturesque grounds and stately structures, the cemetery has become a point of pride for the local veterans community.

8. Smoking ordinances

Both Killeen and Copperas Cove enacted smoking bans during the past decade, a move that initially drew protests from business owners and smokers alike.

Copperas Cove enacted its ordinance in 2004, but not without a fight. The city council first adopted the ban, but was forced to put it to a vote after a petition drive produced the required number of signatures. In the end, Cove voters approved of the ban, which has been in place since.

Killeen's ordinance was enacted by the City Council in June 2009, after several months of debate and discussion. After considering a citywide ban, the council agreed on an ordinance that bans smoking in all public buildings except stand-alone bars, pool halls, bowling alleys and clubs.

The city's smoking committee considered removing the exemptions to the ban last year, but further action was tabled. A ban on smoking in a military community was viewed by some as impractical, but public sentiment has generally favored the ban since its enactment.

Harker Heights does not have a similar ordinance.

9. Red-light cameras

One of the most controversial developments of the last decade was Killeen's installation of red-light cameras at six high-traffic intersections.

After a one-month test in April 2008, the city installed the cameras in an effort to discourage drivers from running red lights and reduce the number of accidents in those locations.

The cameras were designed to take still pictures of the vehicle before it enters the intersection, as it is intersection and also takes a photo of the license plate. The camera also takes video of each violation.

Violators are fined, but the infraction does not go on the driver's traffic record.

The biggest complaint about the system? The ticket is sent to the vehicle's owner, regardless who was driving at the time of the violation.

Opponents claimed the cameras violated their privacy and only served to pad the city's finances. Proponents argued the cameras caused drivers to slow down and take fewer chances.

The results? As of September, Killeen's police chief credited the cameras for a 10 percent decrease in accidents citywide. Overall, red-light violations are down as well. Cameras snapped photos of more than 40,000 potential violators in the first seven months of 2008. A year later, that total had dropped to less than $23,000.

As for the financial side of the issue, the city billed violators almost $3 million in 2009. After paying the company that operates the cameras and the state their share, the city took in about $762,000.

10. Political turmoil

The last decade has been marked by political turmoil in two area towns - Copperas Cove and Nolanville.

In Copperas Cove, the political scene is finally calm after several years of controversy and chaos.

In 2008, drama came to a head when the City Council voted to remove the city's mayor in an administrative hearing. Subsequently, a petition drive forced a recall election in which four council members were voted out of office, effectively leaving the city with no governing body until a special election could be called.

A new mayor and council members have since been seated, and the city's voters approved several charter amendments last year designed to make the government run more smoothly.

In Nolanville, the scene was even more volatile at times during the decade.

In 2007, three members of the City Council resigned over disagreements with the mayor, only to rescind their resignations the next day.

That same year, the council voted to cut off funding for the city's volunteer fire department. Two weeks later, it fired the municipal court judge.

In 2009, the city planner was fired and fire chief quit.

After a budget crisis that caused the city to furlough several employees - including some police officers - and cut hours at city hall, the city restructured its finances.

The drama continued late last year, however, as the city's embattled police chief resigned and was replaced by a new chief. The action caused the resignation of the city's mayor pro tem, who claimed the council hadn't followed proper procedure in posting the position.

Nolanville voters last fall approved a new city charter that will make the town a Type A city.

The newly hired city manager, a recent college graduate, likely will be busy.

Amanda Kim Stairrett contributed to this article. Contact Dave Miller at dmiller@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7543.

Other news makers

Here are some other stories of interest in the past decade:

Killeen, Harker Heights expand alcohol sales

Community helps evacuees from Hurricane Katrina

Bell County voters reject jail bond issues; justice complex built using tax-free revenue bonds

Area flooding in 2007 leaves six dead

Killeen annexes "Doughnut Hole" area south of town

Kempner Water Supply Corp. deals with continuing water-quality issues

Killeen ISD builds new schools to meet rising enrollment

"Smart Meter" billing controversy simmers

U.S. Highway 190 bypass approved for Copperas Cove

Redistricting removes Killeen, Cove from Chet Edwards' district

Killeen voters elect city's first black mayor

4th Infantry Division leaves Fort Hood

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