Thursday, April 25, 2024

City renames conference center in honor of late David Southern

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There was not a dry eye in Granbury City Hall March 19, following a unanimous decision by the Granbury City Council to honor a remarkable city leader.

During a regularly scheduled meeting, the council approved a petition from the Bridge Street History Center to rename the Lake Granbury Conference Center after the late David Southern.

Southern, who passed away in December 2022, was reportedly the longest-serving elected leader in Granbury’s history. He served 15 years as mayor of Granbury and led the city through projects that enhanced the quality of life for residents.

According to a previous article in the Hood County News, Southern increased the city’s appeal as a tourist designation. He also advocated for development regulations that — while sometimes controversial — were designed to enhance the city’s beauty and give it a cohesive appearance.

During his time as a city leader, two prominent historical buildings were constructed: Granbury City Hall and the Lake Granbury Conference Center (LGCC). Because of Southern, the Hilton Garden Inn was constructed next to the conference center as a partnership intended to enhance the LGCC’s marketability and local tourism.

Southern’s vision for what Granbury could be also led to the creation of the Moments in Time Hike and Bike Trail and City Beach Park. He also pursued the expansion of Granbury Regional Airport and brought that dream to fruition with help from grant funds from the Texas Department of Transportation’s Aviation Division.

In a previous article in the Hood County News, Southern shared that one of his proudest achievements as mayor was getting a non-smoking ordinance passed.

“The reason for my pride in that ordinance is that studies show that in cities with strong non-smoking ordinances, 40% fewer kids start smoking,” Southern had said.

Southern also volunteered on various nonprofit boards. He served as president of the Northwest Central Texas Housing Finance Corporation and was first vice president of the Texas Association of Local Housing Finance Agencies. Both organizations promote affordable housing.

He served on the board of Veterans Freedom Retreats, which helps veterans and their spouses cope with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Southern served for a decade as chair of the Granbury Cemetery Board and spent a couple of years on the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission. At the time of his death, he was vice-chair of the Granbury Cultural Arts Commission and a member of the Lake Granbury Kiwanis Club.

During the Granbury City Council meeting, City Manager Chris Coffman explained that the Bridge Street History Center had been working with the city for nine months to get the name change petition submitted.

"There was a petition submitted to council to consider renaming the Lake Granbury Conference Center to the new name of the David Southern Lake Granbury Conference Center,” Coffman said. “That petition states many facts about David's life as a council member, a mayor and as a board member with the city for about 50 years of service in his life.”

Coffman also noted that an individual private donor had offered to fund the costs associated with the new signage at the LGCC. The cost for the signage is estimated to be between $13,000-$15,000.

The council then opened the public hearing for anyone wishing to speak about the agenda item.

Dominique Inge, a prominent patron of Hood County arts and culture, spoke in strong favor of the decision. She explained that Southern was Granbury’s “longest-serving mayor,” and that he was a “visionary, gifted leader, an astute businessman and urban planner.”

“His vision was always to promote Granbury,” she said. “I would like to point out that we owe this beautiful building, this city hall, to David Southern. As I go back into the hinterlands of memory, I recall the days when the city council meetings were held in a building — I think it was a furniture store nearby — and the councilman had folding tables with metal chairs. The audience was also seated in folding metal chairs, there were maybe eight or possibly a dozen of the folding chairs there against a wall. So, these beautiful chambers are owing to David Southern’s vision to have a city hall right in the center of town.”

She explained that the development of the conference center was all due to Southern’s business acumen and exceptional negotiating skills — even though it took 11 years for the building to be constructed.

“David Southern was a passionate supporter of historic preservation, and he did everything he could to support the efforts and the beautiful homes that are here,” Inge said. “During his term, there was the Candlelight Tour of Homes that was started. He saw the possibilities of Granbury and what it could become.”

Inge said Southern was also a supporter of the arts, as he began what was called the Granbury Mayor’s Choice Award, where the mayor could choose a work of art that would be displayed in the Granbury City Hall for the public to view.

Additionally, Inge said The Wall Street Journal published a front-page article “above the fold” about Granbury in 2006, classifying the town as a “micropolis.”

"They use the term to describe a city that was a big, little city near a metroplex that had so many of the amenities that a larger city would have,” she said. “I remember David Southern was enormously proud of this article."

Inge ended her remarks by telling an anecdote about Southern, in which he used his resonant baritone voice. She said she was having an animated conversation with the former mayor about acting when Southern revealed he had previously acted in a school play.

"I asked him, ‘Oh, what role did you play?’ and he said, ‘The voice of God,’” Inge said, as chuckles sounded throughout city hall.

“This concludes my remarks,” she added. “I hope you will approve this measure and I give you my full and unreserved endorsement. I believe this would be tremendously important to David Southern.”

Tom Hamilton, director of the Bridge Street History Center, said he echoed Inge’s statements and asked the public to stand up if they were in favor of the resolution. Almost every attendee stood in Southern’s honor.

Granbury resident Faye Landham said Southern’s name was one of the first names she heard when she moved to Granbury.

“I heard he was a mover and a shaker,” she said. “David did so much for our town, and he served in our many nonprofits. I know he also donated so much to nonprofits. His generosity speaks volumes; therefore, I recommend renaming the conference center after him.”

Mary Hattox, vice chair of the Historic Preservation Commission, said Southern loved his Lord, and devoted his life’s work to the improvements around Granbury.

"He was my friend, and I would be so proud for him to have this conference center renamed; it was one of his dreams,” she said.

Hattox also took the time to thank Coffman, as she explained how heartbroken she was when she first learned of Southern’s passing and had come to speak to Coffman about naming a city building in his honor.

"He said, ‘Well, you know, Mary, we don't have any guidelines or anything written to allow us to name anything after anyone in the city. It has never been done,’” she told the public. “But he said, ‘I'm gonna take that challenge, I'm gonna take it to the mayor and I'm going to take it to the council and see if we can get some guidelines approved, so that in the future we can honor such people as David.' Chris, I thank you for getting that job done. I know it was a lot of work on you, so thank you.”

Following his wife, Attorney Richard Hattox spoke about Southern’s pride, hope, and optimism.

“David was a lot of fun and he brought joy in my life,” Richard said. “I just want the council to recognize the fact that David loved the community, he loved the people, and he loved his family but more importantly, he loved this town and he touched everything in it.”

Mickey Parson, a member of the Granbury Cultural Arts Commission, also spoke about Southern’s involvement with the Brazos River Authority, the Granbury Opera House, and the Bridge Street History Center.

“I’m in support of the petition presented by the Bridge Street History Center, and I will tell you that the way we ended up with that was because of David Southern,” Parson said. “He worked with the citizens that were on that street and David created that Bridge Street building. He was a large part of the beginning of the success of that. I want to thank my friends with the Bridge Street History Center for their efforts and thank them for writing this petition for it. I support it. Please vote for it.”

Mayor Jim Jarratt then closed the public hearing and allowed council members to give their opinion on the resolution.

Place 2 Councilman Eddie Rodriguez said there are 28 photos of the Granbury City Council and Southern is in 11 of the photos.

"He served as a council member, a mayor and as a board member of several of the city boards," Rodriguez said. “Having his name on the conference center is the least I can do. He served 10 years on council, 15 years as mayor, and also many other years as a board member. It is hard to sit up here and just give him that recognition. I mean, he deserves more.”

Place 5 Councilman Steven Vale explained that Feb. 7, 2023, the council developed a policy to establish a procedure for the renaming of any street or any city-owned facility. He said there are five guiding principles, and four criteria to consider when naming a facility after an individual.

“I had the opportunity to meet and talk with David over the years and Claudia as well,” Vale said. “He had a passion for our community. He served not only in city council and mayor, but he continued his involvement, even after office, serving on boards and commissions. As I read back through the five guiding principles, and the four items to consider when naming individuals, I think David certainly meets those criteria from my perspective. Granbury is where Texas history lives and I think we can see David's hand in many projects in our city — from the conference center, city beach, city hall, Moments in Time, et cetera — and I think David is one of those individuals that helped shape history for the betterment of Granbury.”

Following comments from council members, Place 6 Councilman Greg Corrigan made a motion to approve the petition from the Bridge Street History to rename the Lake Granbury Conference Center to the David Southern Lake Granbury Conference Center.

The motion passed unanimously.