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The future of the Texas Renaissance Festival

More specifically, what is the future of the town of Todd Mission, where the RenFest was founded and takes place, as its founder prepares to step down?

At a city council meeting earlier this month in Todd Mission, council members discussed re-doing street signs, and Mayor George Coulam doodled.

Coulam, 82, otherwise known as “King George,” pushed to incorporate this stretch of woodsy land 37 years ago. He had one goal: Protecting the Texas Renaissance Festival he founded here eight years before that.

Houston’s growth attracted Coulam to the area, and he knew better than to leave his life’s work vulnerable to it. The result is a quirky city intimately tied to his creation and under his control. He didn’t want someone else writing the rules.

Now that city is entering a new phase. Coulam is planning for what will happen to his creations after he dies — he’s already built a mausoleum across from his house — and officials in Todd Mission, 50 miles northwest of downtown Houston, are grappling with coming development.

A four-lane tollway is being built on the edge of town, a change they expect to transform this rural city in the pines, which attracted creative types and those who preferred to be somewhere remote.

It’s a scenario repeating across greater Houston, as roadways expand and push farther out — in this case, with a Renaissance twist.

“The city wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the festival,” said City Manager Neal Wendele. Renaissance lettering adorns city signs in Todd Mission. Festival sales tax and business license fees make up most of the $525,000 annual city budget.

Coulam remains a central figure, very much involved in festival operations. He has been the city’s only mayor.

But the municipality he formed is emerging from the festival’s shadow. Wendele was hired last year to fill the city manager position full-time, and the city secretary this year stopped working at the festival.

“We’re working on separating things a little,” said Council Member Heather Moon-Whinnery, who owns a festival shop. “For the longest time, Todd Mission was just the Renaissance Festival.”

There’s more, and it’s partly about the history of the RenFest, partly about founder Coulam, and partly about the landscape Todd Mission faces today. Like Father Time, urban sprawl comes for us all. Go read the rest.

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