Shared from the 10/25/2017 Houston Community Newspapers eEdition

Light of Mitchell’s legacy burns through George’s Coffee Club

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Pictured from left to right are Ed Chance, former Precinct 3 commissioner; Robert Heineman, VP of Planning and Design for TWDC.; Coulson Tough, retired vice president of Design and Construction for TWDC.; Julie Ambler, head of school at TWCA; Roger Galatas, co-founder of George’s Coffee Club and past president of TWDC; and Michael F. Maher, head of school at The John Cooper School.

With its mission to “honor, respect and communicate George Mitchell’s vision for The Woodlands,” George’s Coflee Club has been busy with its monthly meetings a year and a half after its formation.

As a nonprofit organization, the club formed to share factual information about Mitchell’s significant leadership and contribution in the development of The Woodlands, which has gained international recognition as a quality “New Town.”

Each month, the group meets to communicate and discuss historical information as well as the evolution and impact of modern issues to not only longtime residents of The Woodlands but to young adult professionals as well.

Roger Galatas, past president of The Woodlands Development Company, spearheaded George’s Coflee Club along with Tom Cox, an established custom homebuilder in the community, and Jefl Harris, former senior vice president of Administration for The Woodlands Corporation. Membership has now expanded to approximately 40 active participants who either knew Mitchell or are now in leadership roles in the community.

“In my judgment, and of many others, the single-most important factor in the success of The Woodlands was its founding developer, George Mitchell,” Galatas said. “His vision, tenacity, compassion, charitable nature, concern for the environment and willingness to take financial risk all combined to define the George Mitchell I knew and had the great opportunity to work with for some 20 years.”

Mitchell was a community builder, notes Galatas, not just adeveloper of lots and commercial property; he understood the need for and demanded quality of design to establish a “community where people could live, work, play and learn.”

According to Galatas, George Mitchell traveled the U.S. as a member of YPO (Young Presidents’ Organization) in the 1960s and early 1970s and saw social unrest and economic decline in several major cities that raised his concern about future growth in Houston which didn’t have comprehensive regional planning. Residents within the city of Houston started moving out to residential neighborhoods in the suburbs located along existing county roads which eventually became congested with traffic and cluttered with retail strip centers and billboards, and which continued to deteriorate over time. He wanted to develop a “solution” for the Houston region and saw master-planned communities coming to the forefront as an example of a better living environment for residents to enjoy and a model for others to utilize. He saw that well-planned, well-financed master-planned communities with development and environmental standards imposed by restrictive covenants as a major correction to Houston’s regional development woes.

Mitchell acquired 17,500 acres of land for The Woodlands, which expanded to 28,000 acres. He recruited the initial professional team, including architects, urban planners, environmental planners, engineers and business professionals to plan and develop The Woodlands. When The Woodlands opened on Oct. 19, 1974, the population of Montgomery County was 50,000. From that modest beginning, The Woodlands has grown to include a resident population of approximately 110,000 and a major economic center with more than 50,000 jobs.

“By sharing information about the original development concept, George Mitchell had 40-plus years ago for creating The Woodlands and what it has become today, we aim to leave an enhanced legacy for our younger members and new residents,” Galatas said. “As an organization, we don’t get into political elections and campaigns. We’re an educational, nonpolitical group. We simply want to broaden community awareness of George Mitchell in a factual way.”

The array of topics covered by guest speakers at the monthly meetings include education, health care, public safety, environment, transportation, religious institutions, economic development, community governance, charitable organizations, parks and recreation, golf events, art in public places, performing arts and art festivals. The presentations often show historical photos that have been archived over the years by Ted Washington during his tenure as “photographer of The Woodlands.”

“Those of us who knew and worked with George Mitchell for many years believe it’s important to keep his vision for The Woodlands alive,” Karen West, retired vice president and general counsel of The Woodlands Development Company and member of George’s Coflee Club steering committee, said. “Mr. Mitchell was a great man and a true visionary. He made sure that we had all the elements of an excellent master planned community like health care, private and public education, churches, charitable organizations, entertainment venues and public spaces. We are pleased to see so many young people carry on Mr. Mitchell’s legacy by taking an active role in the community. At the coflee club meetings, we not only discuss our history, we tie it to what’s happening today and learn how Mr. Mitchell’s vision and legacy is being carried forward into the future as The Woodlands continues to thrive and prosper.”

Justin Kendrick, vice president of Operations for Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Hospital and member of the club, added, said being involved in the group has helped him understand and respect The Woodlands’ history.

“As a person in aleadership position at a local hospital, I’ve gained insight into where we’ve been, who we are now, and who we can become as an organization that is shaping the future,” Kendrick said. “I believe it is important to learn about the history and background of those who’ve been here since the beginning, as they are an invaluable resource to tap as we move toward the future in a respectful way.”

Oflering more historical information, Galatas has authored a book with Jim Barlow titled “The Woodlands: The Inside Story of Creating aBetter Hometown,” published by the Urban Land Institute and available on Amazon.com. Galatas recently was invited by the Harvard Graduate School of Design to actively participate in its “Toward Twenty-First Century New Towns Conference,” which will publish a book covering “New Towns” around the world, including The Woodlands.

For more information about George’s Coffee Club, visit www.GeorgesCofleeClub.org.

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