One of the biggest controversies swirling around Central Texas these days concerns why the Former Texas Ranger Foundation suddenly announced they were scrapping previous plans to build a "Texas Ranger Heritage Center" on land they owned in Kerrville and would be building the facility in Fredericksburg instead. All sorts of accusations and blame have been flying back and forth between various entities involved in the situation, and I don't really feel I have enough of the most critical information I'd need to weigh in effectively at this time.
Here's what I do know. The Texas Rangers were started by Stephen F. Austin in 1823, making them the oldest law enforcement agency in North America. The Rangers, who have a rich historic (and often controversial) past, are now an elite part of the Texas Department of Public Safety (TX DPS). In 1982, the Texas Ranger Association Foundation was created to assist Rangers and their families in times of need, provide scholarships for the children of Rangers, perpetuate the history of the Rangers, and help run the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco, the official historical center of the Texas Rangers. This organization has sponsored official reunions and fundraisers for years and is run by a statewide board consisting of representatives from all of the Ranger companies. It has an outstanding reputation statewide as far as I know, having given substantial financial aid to qualifying individuals over the years, doing a fine job of caring for the Waco museum, and preserving and publishing Ranger history.
The group planning to build the Texas Rangers Heritage Center, first in Kerrville and now in Fredericksburg, is called the Former Texas Rangers Foundation (FTRF) and is separate from the Texas Ranger Association Foundation. According to a recent press release, the center the FTRF plans to build in Fredericksburg will have 41,350 square feet of space. It will contain 5 galleries, including a Ranger Ring of Honor (a memorial to Rangers who've died in the line of duty) and an auditorium that will also be available for community use. The planned center will house historical artifacts and documents and will serve as the headquarters of the FTRF.
The FTRF has been holding major fundraisers such as galas and golf tournaments for the past decade in the Kerrville area for their planned center, and they had purchased 15 acres on Texas 173 across from the Museum of Western Art in Kerrville to build it on. According to their head, Joe Davis, the foundation has raised $5.4 million for the project.
Various local newspaper accounts say certain (but notably not all) Kerrville city officials began hearing last summer that foundation officials were thinking about moving their planned center to Fredericksburg. Various Kerrville officials say they repeatedly informed the FTRF about the steps necessary for applying for various financial and other incentives that were available but that the foundation would not follow any of the application procedures and never even submitted any building plans.
In March of this year, the FTRF announced they'd decided to build their Texas Rangers Heritage Center in Fredericksburg instead. Fredericksburg offered the foundation a package that included 7.1 acres of land adjacent to Fort Martin Scott, water, sewer, and electric service to the site, and to pay the bills for any necessary archaeological studies. Kerrville donors who'd supported the project faithfully for years under the assumption they were supporting a Kerrville project were upset, as you can imagine.
Kerrville officials began suddenly spreading information that had been previously reported by the San Antonio newspaper, namely that the FTRF was ranked second in the nation for inefficiency in its fundraising efforts by nonprofit watchdog group charitynavigator.org, spending $1.54 for every $1.00 raised. Sandra Miniutti, charitynavigator.org vice president, was quoted in the March 6-7 edition of the Kerrville Daily Times as saying, "Personally, I would not give to this organization." Kerrville officials claim the foundation never gave them an official explanation for the sudden move. There hasn't been any announcement about what will happen to the Kerrville property now, either, except that Davis says it's "currently being appraised". The FTRF says they hope to begin construction within the next 12 months, "although economic factors could delay the start of construction" (quoted from the 3/3/10 edition of the Kerrville Daily Times).
Now here are some of the things I don't know but want very much to find out. The first time I drove by the Kerrville property purchased by the FTRF along the Guadalupe River and saw their sign, I immediately noticed that it appeared to lie within the river's floodplain. Yes, the property is in a great location for tourism, being directly opposite the entrance to the well-established Western Art Museum, but the museum is also considerably uphill. I want to know whether any floodplain/drainage studies were done when the foundation purchased this property and what the results were. I'd also like to know who the foundation purchased the property from and how much they paid for it.
As people who've lived here for any length of time will tell you, flood and drainage information for property here is crucial, because there's so little soil for rainwater to soak into that it generally only goes up. Our usually dry climate is notorious for tricking people into thinking it's safe to build close to our beautiful rivers and streams, until one of our occasional "gullywashers" suddenly makes them realize it's not. Early settlers in this region quickly learned (often after watching their homes and businesses wash away) to walk a fine line between building close enough to the water that they wouldn't have to carry it far and far enough away to be safe when it floods.
My own personal opinion on the matter (which you can take for whatever it's worth) is that the property the FTRF bought and said they intended to build on in Kerrville looked too low. In fact, after I saw it, I emailed both the Texas Rangers and our local San Antonio reporter to ask whether the floodplain situation with regard to the property had ever been checked out. (I never received any replies.) Note that a good deal of the property both up- and downstream from the foundation's tract is currently in use as parkland precisely because it does tend to flood (and, interestingly, much of the rest of it now has new construction).
I also want very much to know why the Texas Rangers want another museum so badly when they already have a well-established one in Waco. In fact, the Texas Rangers Association Foundation also seems to be questioning this, because they wrote a lengthy letter to the Kerrville Daily Times (published in the March 20-21 issue) putting as much distance between themselves and the FTRF as possible. I'm confused about why the FTRF says specifically in their press release they want the new facility to house historical documents and artifacts when I thought these were kept at the Waco museum--why split them up?
There's no doubt that the new site proposed for the FTRF center is very tourist-friendly, being located next to an established historic attraction (Fort Martin Scott) and just outside the "tourist Mecca" of Fredericksburg--see also my "They Do What?" post from 3/30/10 below. (Notably, the new site also happens to be somewhat topographically low.)
There's also no doubt that a lot of Texas Rangers and other very high-level TX DPS officials retire here. In fact, a former Ranger who headed the entire criminal investigations division of the TX DPS came back to our town (where he'd grown up with my former father-in-law) to be our police chief and live in a house owned by my ex-husband's family. (This man has since passed away, but not before personally recommending our current police chief, also a lifelong close friend of my ex-husband's family.)
Finally, I need to note here that my children and I have often noticed we are being followed by retired Rangers or other persons connected with the TX DPS. Many of these people don't seem to realize that over the years we've gradually learned who they are and what they are doing. They certainly don't seem to care that what they are doing to us constitutes stalking and/or illegal surveillance, since their backgrounds in law enforcement mean they know what they're doing is illegal. What would Walker say??