Image courtesy of City of Baytown, Texas/Jason Calder
Mayor Brandon Capetillo of Baytown, Texas developed an interest in politics and public service at a young age while serving on student council in junior high and high school. After studying government and history in college, he served in the Air Force during Operation Desert Storm.
Following his military service, Capetillo laid down roots in Baytown, started a family, and successfully ran for city council in 2005. After serving four consecutive terms on the city council, he was elected mayor in 2018, a position he still holds.
His interest in running for public office initially stemmed from an issue that hit close to home. According to Capetillo, he was first inspired to run for city council due to a lack of recreational opportunities for his young daughter and other children in his community. “Neighboring cities with smaller populations had superior parks and recreational facilities. If those smaller cities could provide quality facilities, why couldn’t Baytown?”
“In particular, there were two other communities in the area that had wave pools, and we were certainly way larger than these other cities,” Capetillo said.
When Capetillo assumed the mayoral role in 2018, Baytown residents still had to go to neighboring communities for various activities and opportunities. It was a growing community without growing amenities, lacking adequate shopping, entertainment, and dining options. Until recently, there wasn’t even space anywhere in the city for gatherings of more than roughly 300 people, such as graduations or large-scale weddings.
However, under the mayor’s leadership, the Houston suburb, home to over 80,000 residents, isn’t only transforming into a community where residents can access many more amenities within their city. With several significant developments coming to Baytown, it is also well on its way to becoming a major destination within the greater Houston area.
The newly opened Hyatt Regency Baytown will add vital hotel rooms and convention space. There’s a new golf course under construction called the T-36, as well as San Jacinto Marketplace, a large-scale shopping center with premium shopping and dining options. Each of these developments helps fill a need for Baytown residents and visitors, whether it be public gathering space, shopping, restaurants, or recreation.
According to the mayor, these projects will have a compounding effect by attracting more development and investment to surrounding areas, even for neighborhoods that traditionally receive less business investment. A good example is the Alexander Drive area. While that neighborhood isn’t necessarily more poor or isolated, it traditionally has received less large-scale development than the areas of Baytown to its north.
“We’re excited that in that side of town [Alexander Drive area], the local economic projects should help go and spur new development in an area that would normally not have that kind of interest,” Capetillo said. “I will tell you there’s going to be some really good things happening on that side of town…they should see some new brick-and-mortar businesses very soon”.
Speaking on new investment in the Alexander Drive area, Capetillo said city leaders “believe it’s directly due to the golf course, and the golf course wouldn’t have even considered Baytown if it wasn’t for the Hyatt Regency. So that area of town is flourishing.”
Image courtesy of City of Baytown, Texas/Jason Calder
The project with the greatest potential impact is called Project Vector. The centerpiece of Project Vector is a proposed arena or large-scale sports venue near the new San Jacinto Marketplace. The city expects the sports venue or arena to spur further retail and dining growth in the area. Current plans call for either an arena that may hold around 12,000 seats or a large youth and amateur sports venue with between 80,000 – 100,000 square feet of space for sports like basketball and volleyball.
While planning for Project Vector, Mayor Capetillo traveled throughout the country, specifically to North Carolina, South Carolina, and other cities in Texas. During his travels, he spoke to other mayors and city officials who planned for and executed similar sports and entertainment venues with prominent retail and hospitality components. He would advise mayors and elected officials that are pursuing large-scale developments to speak with and learn from representatives from other cities that previously executed similar projects.
“As mayor, I want to [hear about] lessons learned, so that in our process we save a lot of time and money and [avoid] making mistakes. That’s always been my advice…build on success from other cities. There’s nothing wrong with trying to replicate [what other cities did] if it’s the right thing for your city”, Capetillo remarked.
However, he also pointed out that each community has its own needs and challenges and that a project’s success in one city doesn’t ensure success in another. “Talking to these mayors, talking to these other economic development folks, [I learned} what may fit somewhere in South Carolina may not fit in Baytown,” Capetillo said.
After speaking with representatives from many other cities, the Mayor and other city staff felt confident that now was the right time to pursue building a large sports venue in Baytown with the World Cup coming to Houston in 2026.
“The reason why there’s a great opportunity [to build an arena now] is the [old mall] has to be redeveloped. Regardless if there’s an arena or anything of that sort, the mall property has to still be redeveloped.”
The city hopes to finalize more details by the end of 2023 and finish construction on the sports venue in time for the 2026 World Cup. Downtown Houston will host several games, and Baytown expects that its new venue would hold auxiliary events that could attract thousands of out-of-town visitors. Mayor Capetillo has also collaborated with Janice Burke, the Houston Sports Authority CEO, for advice on which venue will work best for Baytown. Once complete, the venue could host concerts, youth sports events, graduations, and other large events.
Mayor Capetillo also worked with Exxon Mobil, one of the largest employers in Baytown, to secure a Chapter 212 agreement, in which Exxon will pay $75 million in upfront tax payments to the city that could help partially fund the arena or sports venue. The project is still in its planning phase, so the city hasn’t established how much the venue will cost.
Mayor Capetillo said that the new developments in his city will help diversify Baytown’s economy, which historically was reliant on the ups and downs of the oil and gas industry. Baytown is on its way to potentially becoming a major destination that attracts visitors from Greater Houston and beyond. However, when reflecting on the city’s past, Capetillo is most excited about the impact of new developments on his city’s residents.
In the past, city residents often had to travel 30 minutes or more to access prime shopping, dining, entertainment, or large events. His goal is for Baytown to “internally meet those needs”.
“That’s what I’m certainly working for. That’s what our staff is working for…to be more self-sufficient within our own city limits. We have a very bright future when it comes to new housing and new retail and new experiences. And that gets me very excited.”