The Impact of President Bush’s Getaway Ranch on McLennan County
Speech by Tom Kelly on Feb. 26th 2002
These days, retirees who sip coffee every morning at the town's only gas station are likely to meet tourists buying
T-shirts proclaiming, “Crawford, Texas: where governors and presidents are in high cotton.” ($15 ea. – $17 for XXL) Visitor spending in Crawford is responsible for year-to-date unit sales tax receipts that are 90 % higher than a year ago.
Crawford residents hope for a success story similar to that in the central Texas hometown of Lyndon B. Johnson, who became president after John F. Kennedy's 1963 assassination and was re-elected the next year. He often returned to his LBJ Ranch near Johnson City, some 70 miles west of Austin. Today the LBJ Ranch is a significant tourist attraction with drive-through access.
Crawford once was a thriving agriculture community with three cotton gins, two grocery stores, a drugstore, bank, movie theater and car dealership. Population growth stimulated by the Santa Fe railroad line passing through Crawford from Temple to Fort Worth reached 600 in 1910. But, by the 1950s population had fallen to 425. Most businesses closed as small farms stopped operating and people moved to bigger cities. The community became a mix of retirees and those who work in Waco, 20 miles to the east, attracted by the Crawford Independent School District. The 2000 Census reported 705 residents in Crawford, up 11.7 percent over the decade (slightly below the 12.9 percent growth of the entire county.)
But, with the Bush Ranch just outside of Crawford, folks already have seen signs of growth. A new coffee shop and an antique shop opened recently, an announcement of a new bank, and there's talk of a hotel and restaurants. Tonkawa Park is now open for business for RV campers, a picnic area, and the family swimming hole. The Crawford Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture has been formed and housed in an old caboose. Residents have expressed some concern over traffic congestion, but they agree that it’s a small price to pay to have the President living in your town.
The Bush Ranch
Bush never released financial details of the ranch purchase, but local real estate agents have said the 1,600-acre property is worth $1.2 million, or $800 to $900 per acre. The market value is $988,353, according to the county tax appraiser's office. Bush constructed a single-level ranch house on 10,000 square feet with high-ceiling rooms making up about one-third of the space. A limestone porch takes up the rest, circling the house like a moat. (The builders, who Bush got to know on a first name basis, were from a religious community in El Mott.) There’s a swimming (“whining”) pool for his twin daughters and a 10-acre man- made pond stocked with 5,000 bass to serve his love of fishing.
President Bush at his ranch near Crawford is the way he likes to see himself —rugged, real and thoroughly Texan. But Bush's persona at the ranch is also more than an act. He seems at peace in this place where he knows each tree and hollow. And, like LBJ, President Bush delights in showing of his ranch to important visitors, such as Russian President Vladimir Putin last November.
The Crawford community center was the location for the Crawford Summit that included Secretary of State Colin Powell, Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, Chief of Staff, Andrew Card, National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, and Counselor to the President, Karen Hughes. The town swelled to the max with over 500 government officials and news correspondents from Newsweek, Reuters, Bloomberg, CBS, ABC, Associated Press, FOX, CNN, Boston Globe, and many others. The Red Bull Café sold lots of tee shirts and Waco hotels filled up.
The McGregor Impact
Managers of the McGregor Airport have reported mixed benefits from the Bush Ranch location. The McGregor Airport has received revenue from private plane fly-ins by media officials, including Barbara Walters, Connie Chung, and Dan Rather. But, during the President Putin visit the FAA and Secret Service established a 15-mile no fly zone that encompassed the McGregor Airport, causing them to loose about $2 thousand per day in revenue. They have since negotiated a 10-mile no-fly zone that will eliminate this problem. Still the noise of F-16s patrolling the air space are heard constantly when President Bush is in residence.
According to McGregor officials the controversy between McGregor and Waco over commercial development around the McGregor Airport has hindered their negotiations with a large developer interested in locating a hotel and restaurant at the airport, partly in response to potential travelers to the Bush Ranch. McGregor reports some increase in existing local restaurant use among Bush Ranch visitors.
The Westward Corridor
There is little doubt that the Bush Ranch will provide a positive stimulus to land values in the immediate area. But, even without the Bush Ranch the corridor of land west of Waco is destined for increased growth. Over the past decade, McLennan County added 24,400 persons and 9,500 households. Builders have been busy adding subdivisions to accommodate housing demand in the county, and many of these subdivisions are in the westward corridor from Waco toward the area bounded by McGregor, Crawford, and China Spring.
How fast will it develop? Last week I dropped into the service station across from the old Midway Junior High School to have my car inspected. While waiting I began talking with an elderly may about the purchase and future commercial use of the property that is the current site of the old Midway Jr. High School at Estates and Highway 84. He recalled that the original bond issue to build the school was $176 thousand and they had money left over. He talked about hunting in the area from all the way to the river (now Lake Waco) as a boy.
Why the move by Waco residents to the West? During the “hoof and foot” years of Waco’s early history, people lived close to where they worked. Streetcars (eventually electrically driven) connected city residents to their jobs. Eventually, professionals with higher incomes, more leisure time, and lower cost of commuting after the automobile, sought higher ground to avoid flooding from the Brazos River. First, Castle Heights—then the Lake streets—finally into Woodway. Commerce followed from West View shopping center at Waco Drive and Valley Mills, followed by the Lake Air Mall and the Richland Shopping Mall. Highway 84 is fast becoming the “new Valley Mills” with commercial retailing and hotel space rapidly developing from Waco Drive to Estates Drive.
Since 1970 the Central city of the Waco MSA has increased 19.3 percent, while the suburbs have increased 91.1 percent. And the suburban flight has not stopped. Nearly all of the growth in Waco city population over the next 30 years will come from recently annexed areas and from additional areas to be annexed from within it’s existing 5-mile extra territorial jurisdiction. The movement to the west is like a big steamroller that gathers momentum, taking with it the economic center of the county. The flood from Waco will eventually merge with the ripple from McGregor—Crawford.
The Bush Library
I couldn’t talk about the impact of President Bush on McLennan County without discussing the most important potential outcome—the location of the George W. Bush Presidential Library Center at Baylor University.
Projected to attract between 300 and 500 thousand visitors annually, the Library and academic center would add $210 million to the Central Texas Region during the construction phase. (A conference hotel would add an additional $20.2 million during its construction phase.) The annual impact of visitor spending would amount to between $8.6 and $13.8 million annually, creating 300 tourist jobs. Ten faculty jobs and 70 library staff jobs and ongoing budget of the School of Public Affairs would increase local income by another $13 million annually.
This would be huge and would be enough to form a critical mass for additional hotels and restaurants along the Brazos River Corridor. Will it happen? Perhaps the proximity of the Bush Ranch and the hospitality of Crawford and other McLennan County citizens will be the catalyst needed to propel Waco tourism to greater heights.
At your leisure, you might be interest in the following web sites:
http://www.crawfordtx.com/ (An on line web page of Crawford with pictures and comments from visitors)
http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/view/CC/hlc58.html (History of Crawford from its inception in 1850s)
http://www.iconoclast-texas.com/ (News published in Crawford, Texas)