Irving has been in the national spotlight in recent months, especially after a Muslim teen was arrested and suspended for bringing a homemade clock to school. But during her annual State of the City address Tuesday night, Mayor Beth Van Duyne steered clear of controversy. Instead, she highlighted several economic development efforts.
More than five hundred business and city leaders listened to the address in the grand ballroom of the Irving Convention Center. As they ate sirloin and mashed potatoes, Van Duyne said the fast growing suburb is a magnet for new residents and new businesses.
“It is this virtuous cycle that allows us to maintain our tax rate,” Van Duyne said. “We are honored and thankful that so many people and businesses are moving here, expanding our tax base so that we don’t have to increase your tax rate.”
The mayor praised city officials and thanked the city’s police force, citing year after year of record low crime rates. The thanks comes at a time when elected officials elsewhere are calling for police reform.
“This year we’ve witnessed across the country incidents with police officers harshly criticized for doing their jobs, being second guessed and undermined by leaders who should know better,” she said.
Beth Van Duyne is not afraid to take controversial stands. In 2014, she appeared on Fox News to denounce a local mosque’s religious mediation service as a subversion of American law – a claim the mosque disputed. And that wasn’t the last time this suburb made headlines.
“Irving was propelled fairly regularly into the news in 2015,” she remind the audience, which was met with a chuckle.
Sometimes the headlines were for natural events – flooding and earth quakes. Then, in September, international media followed the arrest and suspension of a 14-year-old Muslim teen. He brought a homemade clock to school that was mistaken for a bomb. Armed protests outside an Islamic center followed. But the mayor downplayed these cultural tensions.
“We responded with leadership and resolve while also forming new collaborations,” she said.
The tensions she focused on in her speech were more mundane… she said some in Irving want quaint quiet suburbs while others want dense urban living with all of the amenities of city life. And in this, Van Duyne played the peacemaker.
“The good news is that with 235,000 people and over 67 square miles, we have the ability to get all of those things done,” Van Duyne said.
The mayor bragged about new housing developments, new stores, new corporate campuses. She trumpeted a quarter-billion dollars of capital investment in the city.
“This city is poised for a lot of major growth,” said Irving Mayor Pro Tem Dennis Webb. “You know, a lot of these projects that are starting to come out the ground, the foundations were laid during the recession times, so that just lets you know how strong Irving’s magnets to attract businesses are.”
Perhaps the biggest project – and maybe the longest delayed – is a massive entertainment complex in Las Colinas. On that, Van Duyne pointed to a compromise, one that Webb says could mean dirt flying as soon as spring.