When the federal government decided to put the superconducting super collider here, bands played and folks celebrated. You would have thought the Spindletop Gusher of 1901 was pumping oil again.
Gov. Bill Clements declared a great day for Texas. Newspapers ran huge headlines. Politicians predicted new jobs and a building boom. And the Chamber of Commerce toasted Waxahachie’s good fortune.
“When you talk about what it means to us and the state of Texas--$275 million to $300 million is not anything to sneeze at,” chamber director N.B. (Buck) Jordan said when Waxahachie was chosen Nov. 10 over six other states as the site for the 53-mile-long underground particle accelerator.
Texas Recession Struck
Waxahachie, a town of 18,000 people about 25 miles south of Dallas, is the seat of primarily agricultural Ellis County. The county blossomed in the early 1980s, but not as much as its northern neighbors, Dallas and Tarrant counties. Two years ago, the largely rural area felt the blow of the Texas recession.
Then there was suddenly the prospect of 4,000 construction jobs and 3,500 permanent jobs connected with the proposed Ronald Reagan Center for High-Energy Physics, and Jordan said, “It’s fantastic what’s happening!”
Arizona, Illinois, Colorado, Michigan, North Carolina and Tennessee lost out to Texas in the competition. The losers’ complaints of influence-peddling in the site selection have not subsided.
But construction money has not arrived, and Ellis County has yet to see benefits from the $5.9-billion project.
Energy Secretary John Herrington stamped the final seal of approval on the Texas site Jan. 18. President Bush has agreed with Reagan’s recommendation to spend $250 million in fiscal 1990: $160 million on initial construction and $90 million on research and development.
But area residents did not seem to notice.
Take City Manager Bob Sokoll. He said he had heard that the site might have been finalized but did not know for sure, and he wasn’t going to get worked up about it, anyhow. He smiled an uneasy smile when talking about getting the money out of a Congress that is looking for ways to cut the federal budget.
Congress agreed last year to spend $100 million on the project--but none of it for construction.
“Put it to you this way--and I’m not trying to be negative about this--but I wouldn’t go out and buy a lot of land yet unless I was a pretty good gambler,” Sokoll said.
In fact, about the only thing that has changed around Ellis County since Nov. 10, he said, is a surge in real estate activity. And even that is hard to measure. Real estate agents said there has been a lot of looking but little buying.
“I think we could be close to making some big deals,” agent Tom Crabb said.
Linda Sukla, an agent with Coldwell Banker, said she had an increase of people looking at land after the selection. “But after the first month, it slowed down a little. . . . There are no done deals.”
Over in Maypearl, population 462, some people hope that there never are any done deals. If the super collider is built, its support buildings would be nearby.
Maypearl hasn’t “changed a lick,” as they say thereabouts. It’s still a two-cafe, one-barbershop town. Folks who drive through still wave at cars going the other way.
On a recent Monday afternoon, two little boys rode bicycles on the sidewalks through the middle of the one-street downtown, in front of boarded storefronts.
Inside Ruby’s Main Street Kitchen at the west end of town, Grady Moore, 81, waited for a hamburger to go and kindly criticized the “older folks who don’t want anything to change.”
Moore said many older residents of Maypearl and western Ellis County want nothing to do with the super collider. They like things the way they are: slow and peaceful. They want their children and dogs to be able to wander through town at a leisurely, unmolested pace.
“A lot of them are worried about drugs and alcohol,” he said. “But I’m for anything that’s good for jobs, even if it does shake up some things a little.”