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Frankfort City Council hears from parks, recreation expert

CROMPTON:John Crompton, center, Ph.D., of Texas A&M University, an expert in parks, tourism and recreation,joined the Frankfort City Council for a special meeting Thursday called to discuss in more detail the proposed Prairie Creek Park project. Council member Wanda Mitchell, left, and Mayor’s Administrative Assistant Tina Stock talk with Crompton after the meeting.

BY SHARON BARDONNER - sbardonner@ftimes.com

Distinguished Professor John Crompton, Ph.D., from Texas A&M University, an expert in parks, tourism and recreation, joined the Frankfort City Council for a special meeting Thursday called to discuss in more detail the proposed Prairie Creek Park project.

Citizens packed the Council Chambers in the basement of Old Stoney to hear Crompton’s ideas and the specifics of PCP.

Crompton was invited to Frankfort to be the featured speaker at Mayor Chris McBarnes annual city-county summit Wednesday evening.

Crompton not only has academic experience in how parks and other recreational amenities can help cities attract residents; he also has served as a deputy mayor and city council member in College Station, Texas.

The professor told the council and the public that he was a neophyte in economic development when he got on the city council. To learn more about what attracted companies and people to communities, Crompton spoke with his four local economic development executives – representing the adjacent City of Bryan, the City of College Station, Brazos County and Texas A&M – to ask them what attracted companies to a community.

Crompton said he expected to hear about tax abatements and infrastructure as the top draws for companies considering different development sites. But to a person they all offered the same advice.

“The thing you can do most of all to bring economic development to town is make it a nice place to live,” they told Crompton.

He also noted that community developers must understand that marketing is never the practice of selling what you’ve got. “It’s always about creating the right product before you go to where you will sell it,” he said. “Design the community where people want to live.

“Businesses go where the talent is. They are driven most of all by talent, by labor force.”

Crompton also referred to a study conducted by the College Station Chamber of Commerce asking local businesses what their top priorities were when considering where to locate. 

Their top three criteria, in this order, were: their proximity to customers; the quality of life in the community; and tax incentives. Crompton advised the city officials to create amenities and design the city to attract a labor force and the workforce, in turn, will attract businesses.

McBarnes said that during the day Thursday he had taken Crompton around Frankfort for him to assess what the city had and what it needed. 

Top aspects of quality of life are a quality health and medical services; safety; a labor force; culture; parks and open space; and a good primary and secondary educational system.

The areas in which Frankfort was most lacking was with its labor force and culture, he said. Regarding its parks and green spaces, “the structure is in place,” Crompton commented.

“It seems like (Frankfort) has the bones, the structure in place to move forward,” he said.

Parks and outdoor spaces greatly influence visitors’ impressions of a community because they’re visible, he explained.

“They’ll look at parks and landscaping and will generalize how good your community is from these tangible clues. The image that they form lifts up and affects their image of other amenities, such as education.”

Crompton endorsed the idea of Prairie Creek Park. “The project downtown – Prairie Creek Park – the sooner the better,” he said.

Although Project Home Run, the multi-use softball/baseball center proposed for the west side of Frankfort, has been shelved by McBarnes, Crompton suggested that it could also be advantageous for the city.

He also minimized the cost of obtaining the land needed for the development, which is a sticking point for many stakeholders.

At a cost of $10 million, said the recreational expert, even if the city had to pay $700,000 to $800,000 to buy out those businesses, that outlay would still only represent 7 to 8 percent of the cost, he factored, adding that such an enhancement would entice people to move to the northeast sector of the city.

“It’s a high visibility project,” he noted. “If you do nothing, nothing will happen.”

Among other suggestions, Crompton also advised the city council to consider planting trees for both ambiance and their environmental value and developing a trail system, one of the top three amenities sought by home buyers considering subdivisions.