Sugar Land calls Imperial Sugar site ‘delicate situation’ as city eyes development of privately-owned historical location

Imperial Sugar refinery, as photographed in 2002 by the Associated Press. (Associated Press, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

SUGAR LAND, Texas – Sugar Land is named after its origins as a sugar producer, and namely, Imperial Sugar. However, the plant itself -- the inspiration and heart of the name of the vibrant city to Houston’s southwest -- sits derelict. Why?

Sugar Land is addressing that issue this week on its officially-run blog.

Doug Adolph, the city’s communications director, shared an explanation of sorts on Tuesday, saying the city “does not own the Imperial Sugar site and never has,” adding “the site is privately owned and is looking for a developer experienced in historic preservation and whose vision for the property aligns with the city’s.”

Then comes the action part of the blog -- what’s next? “The city and owner have been actively working on attracting a developer, but the site is difficult to develop, and even temporary alterations could impact future historic preservation financing, which is why the site remains as-is,” the blog reads.

And as-is is, well, let’s just say it’s a bit more than rough around the edges. Photos shared of the site show “no trespassing” signs and what appear to be open windows and possibly graffiti in the main building’s upper floors.

“Community concerns related to the future of the Imperial Sugar site are well known and shared by city leadership,” Adolph wrote. “However, this is a delicate situation, and the city is doing everything possible to support the owner in attracting the right developer to the site and will continue to do so.”

“Sugar Land is built out; opportunities for growth are limited,” the post continues. “Our community and City Council leadership have identified redevelopment as a key priority to increase revenue streams that will preserve Sugar Land’s quality of life for current and future residents. Five ‘activity centers,’ one being the Imperial Sugar site, have been identified to expand our big city amenities while keeping our small-town hospitality. These activity centers are envisioned as mixed-use, dense, and walkable areas. The new tax base generated from growth in activity centers will help keep our tax rate among the state’s lowest while sustaining the high quality of life amenities and services that our residents, businesses and visitors expect.”

The city’s post indicates that development of those activity centers “must start with housing.”

“It is not possible to develop new, attractive places without bringing more residents to Sugar Land, just like Imperial Sugar did decades ago,” Adolph argues. “A variety of housing options such as apartments, townhomes, duplexes and more will provide pathways to home ownership, a place nearby for family, and drive demand for new dining, retail, amenities, and attractions.”

The post continues: “We’ve been changing to remain relevant and working to identify a bold vision for the future. We are also looking to carry this out in the most appropriate and thoughtful manner suitable for Sugar Land. The Imperial Historic District site once played a vital role in our city’s economy. Our vision is to preserve and reuse the historic buildings while developing a mixed-use, walkable destination.”

The Imperial Sugar site closed in 2003. It was acquired by Louis Dreyfus Commodities for $78 million in 2012, the Houston Chronicle reported at that time. Adolph told KPRC 2 the current owner is Hunton Group. Searches indicate it is a Houston-based company known for its industrial machinery manufacturing under labels like Trane. It’s unclear as of this writing how many times the property has changed hands.

KPRC 2 has reached out to Hunton Group for comment and will update this article if we hear back.

Sugar Land also shared its city strategic outcomes information and more about its regional activity centers.

SOUND OFF: What do you think about the Imperial Sugar site? Let us know what you think about it and what next should be, in the comments.

About the Author:

Amanda Cochran is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. She specializes in Texas features, consumer and business news and local crime coverage.