CLEVELAND — Six miles west of the city, semi-trucks carting lumber and construction equipment barrel across the train tracks on Fostoria Tram Road.

They are en route to build out 1,200 acres of land on the northern edge of Liberty County that will house Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway’s newest logistics center, a large industrial and business park, with room for 39 companies to set up shop to transport goods across the country via rail.

“It’s going to change Cleveland,” said Robert Reynolds, Cleveland’s economic development coordinator.

A BNDF Railway work site, Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023, in Cleveland. (Antranik Tavitian / Houston Landing)

Reynolds said the logistics center, situated along the existing east-west BNSF rail line, could bring hundreds of industrial and manufacturing jobs to the region, including companies that handle lumber, steel and other building materials. 

The site, which currently is under construction, has been stripped of trees by construction crews — turning a formerly forested canopy into a thousand-plus acres of dirt patches.

Reynolds said BNSF will begin opening lots to companies in 2024, though the entire center is not expected to be completed until at least 2025.

BNSF first announced the center would be located in Cleveland in February 2020, with then-Mayor Otis Cohn calling the industrial park a “game changer” for the city’s future.

Current mayor Danny Lee used to be on Cleveland ISD’s school board and has watched over the years as the district, which extends beyond city limits, experienced massive growth. In 2011, there were roughly 3,500 students enrolled in Cleveland ISD; now there are more than 11,000.

As the city continues to expand, Lee anticipates tax revenues eventually will match expenses, but it will take years to get there.

That is why BNSF’s investment in the city is so important, he explained.

“Cleveland is on the map,” Lee said. “But funding is always an issue, so we’re excited about what the logistics center can bring.” 

Reynolds has a background in residential and commercial construction and recognizes how much this kind of industry could impact a city of roughly 7,500 residents, 80 percent of whom work outside Cleveland.

“There’ll be a lot of sales tax coming in that the city hasn’t seen from the industrial side,” he said. 

Once the site is built out, there will be roughly 700 acres that up to 39 companies can claim to take advantage of the accessible rail line.

Currently, there are two miles of direct rail access, but another two or three miles will be developed as a loop around the logistics center, according to BNSF

A BNSF spokesperson wrote in an email to Houston Landing that Cleveland’s proximity to Interstate 69 and Texas 105 made it an attractive location for the railway, hoping to capitalize on Houston’s fast-growing market.

“(Additionally) this facility will help save businesses nine months or more of developing time and expense by coming to a fully permitted, shovel-ready site with rail infrastructure already in place,” spokeswoman Jeanelle Davis wrote.

Neither Reynolds nor a representative for BNSF would comment on which companies have expressed interest in locating at the logistics center, but Reynolds said he hopes to be able to share more soon.

“This is going to change us,” he said. “1,200 acres? Yeah, there’ll be a lot of people wanting to come here.”

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Céilí Doyle covers the region’s suburbs and rural communities for the Houston Landing. She comes to Texas by way of the Midwest, most recently working for The Columbus Dispatch in Ohio through the...