2021 started off with an icy bang, as an unprecedented winter storm hit the area and caused life to come to a cold standstill for nearly a week until the ice thawed.
Add in the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, as well as a lot of good news on the business and school fronts, and 2021 could be considered a rollercoaster of a year.
The city got over 6 inches of snow in the February winter storm, which was the area’s second snowfall of the year, by the way. The storm heavily damaged water lines and also damaged the Harrison County Road and Bridge offices at 3800 Five Notch Road, among others.
Officials at Marshall City Hall continued plans to revitalize the city, unveiling parts of the downtown revitalization project, creating an official cultural arts district, creating a master parks plan, and approving a new vacant property registration ordinance.
The city saw several staff changes, including new hires Fabio Angell, Garnett Johnson, Daniel Duke — and Main Street Manager Veronique Ramirez, who was later fired — as well as the resignation of City Manager Mark Rohr.
After decades of discussion, the city also celebrated the grand opening of the Marshall Pet Adoption Center. City officials were met with a full room, with hundreds of community members gathering in the new building along with city council members, Friends of Marshall Animals volunteers and board members, to celebrate the grand opening and the start of a new animal shelter program that focuses on adoption and fostering animals.
Friends of Marshall Animals Board President Ed Smith also addressed those gathered at the event, stating that the completion of this project was Marshall fixing a big issue within the community.
“Although the opening of this building is a critical accomplishment, it is just the first step. It sets the stage for a change in our community’s culture,” Smith said.
Further north, Marion County welcomed the completion of its historic 1913 courthouse renovation project. The downtown landmark, located at 102 West Austin St., was afforded the makeover through a $4.7 million restoration grant awarded in April 2018 by the Texas Historical Commission’s Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program (THCPP), as well as $1 million of county money.
“This has been a project in the making for 20 years,” said County Judge Leward LaFleur. “It’s just really neat to see a 20-year effort finally come to finish.”
State Rep. Chris Paddie (R-Marshall) also announced in 2021 that, after the state legislature’s redistricting process, that he would be stepping down and that House District 9 would be split up and merged with surrounding districts.
City and county leaders were busy in 2021 helping make our local economy grow. Perhaps the biggest news was the Prysmian Group’s announcement in October that it planned a $50 million investment at its Marshall plant (formerly known as General Cable).
Harrison County Pct. 2 Commissioner Zephaniah Timmins and Harrison County Judge Chad Sims issued a joint statement saying they were both excited about the capital investment and job creation that Prysmian was committing to at the facility.
“Prysmian’s plant has been a large employer for years,” they said. “With this expansion it’s our hope that their business will continue to thrive for many more. While the county is foregoing initial revenue as an incentive to secure the expansion, the immediate effect will be employment of construction workers and thereafter company employees.”
A new educational center is also planned for the former Capital One bank building in downtown Marshall, thanks to a partnership between East Texas Baptist University and the Marshall Economic Development Corporation.
The Marshall City Council voted to spend $1 million in economic development funds for the project, dubbed Workforce Readiness, to create “a downtown business park campus promoting primary job skills training, workforce readiness, high school and college collaboration, undergraduate and graduate-level degrees, language and literacy training and services, mental health services, and community development, amongst other endeavors.”
The downtown building was purchased at auction by ETBU. Plans are to combine the ETBU School of Nursing, which is housed at the Marshall Grand, and the 49,000 square foot Capital One building at 100 N. Bolivar to create the Synergy Park educational center.
MEDCO’s other economic development projects included Piney Park, a Christmas lights attraction that opened south of Interstate 20, and a new development phase for the Marshall Business Park.
Harrison County also announced in October a plan for broadband expansion.
The Harrison County Broadband Committee worked to develop a county-specific Technology Action Plan. The committee, which is partnering with Connected Nation Texas (CN Texas) to make this possible, is made up of local stakeholders who are focused on finding solutions for improving internet connectivity countywide. Collecting usage data and determining need is the first step in the action plan.
“Improving internet access and speeds is critical to supporting our local families, businesses, and community organizations,” said Harrison County Judge Chad Sims. “As the challenges of the pandemic have impacted our communities, we have all become keenly aware of the need for improved and affordable broadband access for everyone. By working together and providing input, we can ensure that everyone across the county has the opportunity to thrive regardless of physical location. Harrison County needs to continue to be a place people love to live and work.”
There were several new businesses that came to downtown Marshall, including Foodies Tasting Room, Black Coffee Records, Texas Tea Room II and, in the future thanks to the approval of a new ordinance, Caddo Distillery Company.
But the biggest restaurant news was that Chick-fil-A planned to open a second Marshall location on U.S. 59 across from Walmart.
2021 was also the year that city and county leaders helped prepare for the closure of the Pirkey Power Plant. MEDCO’s Rush Harris said his organization has been working with AEP/SWEPCO and others on the task force for months to mitigate the impact of the two sites’ upcoming closures.
“The effects of the transition will be felt regionally,” Harris said in September. “The process the steering committee is going through now is to help mitigate the change and provide information to employees and the community. Once we know the potential impacts on the tax base and employment, both regionally and locally, we’ll have a better understanding of what our organization and the steering committee group as a whole, can do to maintain and grow the economic base.”
2021 was an eventful year for Marshall-area schools. Both Marshall ISD and Hallsville ISD named new superintendents: Richele Langely for Marshall and Jeff Martin for Hallsville.
Langley, a 1983 Marshall High School grad and former Marshall ISD teacher, principal and administrator who was working as the Region 8 Education Service Center Deputy Executive Director, replaced former Marshall ISD Superintendent Jerry Gibson.
Martin had been serving as Assistant Superintendent of Central Administration in the district and replaced outgoing Superintendent Jeff Collum.
Marshall ISD also celebrated the grand opening of a new Ag barn and updated auditorium
“We are very, very blessed and excited to have this new agri-science complex,” Marshall ISD Superintendent Richele Langley said at the ribbon cutting. “This was begun before I started here in May so I do want to make sure we recognize all the people who put in the work for this, including our board who approved it and our assistant superintendent Andy Chilcoat and our whole crew with our agri-cultural department and our maintenance crew.”
The new $1 million ag complex has pens, corrals, two new classrooms and storage which is all covered from the weather.
At the collegiate level, Wiley College ended the year with good news: sanctions first placed on them in 2019 had been lifted by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
The Marshall-based HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) is currently under its next review process that will be concluded in 2023, SACSCOC Public Relations and Media Specialist Janea Johnson said.
“The sanctions were lifted and Wiley College is currently in the process of submitting documents for its next review period,” Johnson said. “The review process takes a couple of years, so their reaffirmation year is 2023, when the review process will be concluded.”
Wiley College also voted to renew President Herman Felton Jr.’s contract for another five years.
East Texas Baptist University also saw its campus expand. In addition to buying the old Capital One building downtown, the university earned a $1.5 million Mabee Foundation grant that is allowing it to build a new Great Commission Center.
The Great Commission Center will house the university’s Fred Hale School of Business, the Office of Career and Development and the Great Commission Center program which will connect students, faculty, and staff with the local communities in East Texas, cities across the United States, as well as cultures across the globe in fulfillment of the Great Commission call in scripture, Blackburn said.
Panola College also finally got to celebrate the grand re-opening of its Marshall College Center, after COVID delayed the festivities.
The satellite Panola College campus, located at Marshall Place, formerly the Marshall Mall, celebrated its grand re-opening of the 10,000 square-foot facility with a ribbon cutting event with the Greater Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce. Marshall College Center Director Laura Wood said at the time the campus began its renovation in December of 2019 and completed the project in March of 2021.