By Rebecca Rose
Killeen Daily Herald

HARKER HEIGHTS — A once-quiet stretch of rural road may now be one of the most attractive areas for retail development.

Since January, at least five businesses either have started construction or applied for permits to build or expand near or on Knight’s Way, also known as Farm-to-Market 2410.

CEFCO, Union State Bank, Texas Star Bank and Family Dollar have all opened or are being built along Knight’s Way. IHOP opened this month just off Knight’s Way on East Central Texas Expressway.

The interest in the area is only increasing, thanks to a few key factors that are particularly alluring to recession-wary developers.

“Right there, there’s a lot of people that are looking,” said Bill Kozlik, president of the Harker Heights Chamber of Commerce.

Kozlik pointed to the strategic location of the road as its biggest draw.

“Knight’s Way, that’s prime property,” he said. “It’s a major thoroughfare through Harker Heights.”

Harker Heights City Manager Steve Carpenter said a combination of residential growth and location have contributed to an increase in interest from businesses.

“I think there are several reasons why,” Carpenter said. “They look at population, the price of property. They look at what’s around it.”

Another major factor is higher traffic counts on Farm-to-Market 2410, Carpenter said. At its intersection with Interstate 190, the traffic count is close to 30,000 cars per day, an eye-catching statistic for developers looking to capture potential commuter dollars.

Roads branching off from Farm-to-Market 2410 are showing increased traffic counts, as well. Stillhouse Lake Drive, which only a few years ago registered 400 cars per day, now sees up to 4,000 per day, Carpenter said.

“Our traffic counts stay pretty constant,” Kozlik said, attributing the increased count in part to changing trends in military family life. “No more do families pack up and go home (during a spouse’s deployment). They have a house; they have to work. They can’t just pack up and move home and move back in a year.”

The popularity of Market Heights is another draw for developers looking to seize opportunities to duplicate that success.

“It makes sense to go where there is a big draw,” Carpenter explained. “I think we’ve had some businesses relocate into Market Heights because it’s new. They draw a lot of people there, so it’s convenient for them to start there, too.”

But perhaps the biggest factor attracting new merchants and developers to Knight’s Way is one that doesn’t even exist yet.

Seton Hospital, scheduled to open next year along Central Texas Expressway just west of Knight’s Way, could be the biggest reason why smart business owners are looking to set up shop early. Kozlik estimated the impact on the local economy to be at least $1 billion. “It’s ready to explode,” he said.

Kozlik said the closer time inches to Seton’s opening, the more interest shifts to professional spaces along Farm-to-Market 2410.

The medical center complex at Seton is about 95 percent rented, he said.

“If anyone else needs space, they’ll have to come out into Harker Heights, into the market.”

Carpenter said one of the challenges the city has is to try to make commercial and residential growth merge seamlessly.

The city has a comprehensive land-use plan, which is updated to take into account changes in growth patterns or commercial development, like the one happening now on Knight’s Way.

Carpenter also noted the benefits to citizens reaches beyond expanded retail options.

“It does give you shopping and dining opportunities close by,” Carpenter said.

But there are even more benefits of having a steady stream of lucrative commercial sales tax revenue, he said.

“At our tax rate, each million dollars generates just under $7,000 (in property tax). And then you have to provide services, like police patrols and street sweeping. You have to have a lot of property to generate money.

“With sales tax, something like Market Heights, that by itself generates a couple of million dollars a year.”

“By having new revenue come into the city, we program that to create better quality of life,” he said. “It’s how we build parks, roads, recreation center programs.”