While the economic picture detailed by Stephenville Mayor Doug Svien Monday during the State of the City address was unquestionably bright, he also made it clear there are challenges ahead.

Svien began with stating that Stephenville’s city council has a “can-do” attitude, then compared the approach to tackling the challenges to eating an elephant.

“How do you eat an elephant?” Svien asked to kick off his speech during the luncheon, which was hosted by the Chamber of Commerce and had more than 200 members in attendance from all segments of the community gathered inside City Hall at City Limits. “One bite at a time.”

After introducing city employees, the mayor said, “I”m proud to say the economy in Stephenville continues to be healthy.”

A number of new businesses have either announced or are believed to be considering opening outlets here. That includes, most notably, a $23 million project dubbed Washington Commons that will feature a Hobby Lobby and an Ulta Beauty. 

The site — the largest commercial development project in the city’s history — will include 150,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space on 17 acres next to Walmart.

That, in combination with Tarleton State University’s move up to the NCAA Division I ranks from Division II, has the community buzzing about the potential growth and increased revenues from the tax rate.

But the other side of that coin is somewhat of a reality check.

“We have an infrastructure problem in Stephenville, Texas,” Svien told the crowd. “Our roads are the biggest one.”

Multiple streets need to be resurfaced either with cheaper asphalt, more expensive concrete (which lasts longer) or more expensive brick (which can last indefinitely).

Svien said the city needs to spend $2.1 million a year to repair the existing streets.

“We’re $1 million behind spending what we should be spending (on streets). And we need to address that,” the mayor said.

Svien noted that the city’s sewer system, which has 117 miles of mostly old clay pipe, is also in need of an upgrade. He noted that the water treatment plant is 35 years old.

“What that means is we will have to raise water and sewer rates to take care of that,” Svien said.

The city’s water system includes 131 miles of pipe, with 6,813 service connections, he said, adding that the city’s population is expected to swell to 20,500 with the next census count.

Svien said the city council intends to “grow ourselves rather than tax ourselves out of the situation we’re in.”

The mayor noted that the latest number for what is known as the “Retail Area Population” includes more than 84,600 people in and surrounding Stephenville. 

The total estimated purchasing power for that area is $1.235 billion, while the actual sales in the city was about $481,106 — a potential loss of $754,815,865.

“Our job is not just to bring retail sales, but also to bring more purchasing power to Stephenville,” Svien said. “You have to invest in your growth.”

While increases in the ad valorem taxes will be significantly larger, the infrastructure needs will be addressed as well.

Svien noted that the city has had contacts with three potential hotels about possibly seeking sites here in the future.

“Stephenville could use another 534 rooms,” the mayor said.

Svien said he had a recent conversation with one potential investor, who indicated that Stephenville may be “the best-kept secret in Texas.”

Svien closed by saying that the future holds “enormous opportunities” for Stephenville. 

“Get ready, word is getting out and everybody is going to know about it,” he said.