LaCenterra At Cinco Ranch’s Founding Father: Woody Mann

COVER STORY | By M.G. Angulo –

Woody Mann

Woody Mann is a humble man who does not devote copious amounts of time obsessing over his own legacy; he would rather to let the chips fall where they may. Still, he does hope that he has had a positive impact on the Katy community that will benefit people years from now. Since the late 70s, Mann, who is married with three children, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild, has been a Real Estate developer and investor. And through this industry he — along with many others, he stressed — has helped make Katy into what it is today.

“I think it’s an exaggeration to say I’m ‘one of the founders’ who helped make Katy into what it is today,” Mann said with a laugh. “I’m proud to have contributed to the growth of the community, but there were so many others involved who saw the city’s potential, too, and contributed as well.”

Realizing the Potential

In 1985 Mann started what is now the Houston-based Vista Companies, which ultimately developed the 34-acre LaCenterra at Cinco Ranch. With its Main Street style collection of shops and restaurants, LaCenterra has now become a sort of town center for the city.

LaCenterra is prominent in Katy’s skyline.

“It did not start out that way,” Mann said of the motivation behind developing LaCenterra. “Back in the early 70s I realized it was such a long drive for Katy residents who wanted to go shopping, go out to eat or just get out and about. If you lived in the Katy area, you had to drive 18 miles east to get to a destination.  Katy was just underserved in retail options in the area at that time.”

Then sometime between 2001 and 2002, Mann had a chance to look at a particularly attractive location of land. At that time the housing growth was exploding, and the Grand Parkway was being developed, so for Mann the potential was clear. “The area was great place for businesses and just a great place to be.”

The original plan, Mann said, was to create a grocery store anchored shopping center, but Ted Nelson, president of Newland Real Estate Group, advised Mann to think outside of the box. So, Mann did. Eighteen acres of property were purchased for the multi-use complex in 2003, and because of the demand, an additional 15 acres were purchased the following year with construction starting in 2006. The first phase was completed in 2007, and the final phase of the center will be complete in May of this year.

LaCenterra Living.

“I’m happy that it has really turned into a town center for the greater Katy area,” Mann said. “It’s a great place to bring your family to enjoy the sights, shopping and scenery.”

LaCenterra provides not only shopping, dining and office options but also features Central Green, a public park opened through a partnership with Willow Fork Drainage District. The holiday season has an official kick-off at Central Green, and concerts and festivals are often showcased in the area along with a large July 4th celebration, typically drawing 20,000 to 30,000 people.

By the time the final phase is complete later this year, LaCenterra will also feature an Alamo Drafthouse movie theater and five-level parking garage.

“It’s been a real plus for the community, and I’m glad we have contributed to the growth of it,” Mann said. “We’re so fortunate to be accepted by the Katy community. It’s been a win-win situation for everyone.”

Caring for Katy

In addition to being president of Vista Equities Group, Mann is also one of the founding members of the Katy Area Economic Development Council (EDC), the brainchild of the late Stan Stanley and Steve Reichart, who were the two original incorporators.

Mann became one of the 15 initial founding members for the board, a position he “handles it with great responsibility and care,” said President and CEO of the Katy Area EDC Lance LaCour, who has known Mann for 12 years. “He is a great leader and has been committed to role of chairman for many years,” LaCour added. “He listens, does his homework and provides great guidance, wisdom and leadership in good and challenging times.”

The 2018 Katy Area Economic Development Council board: Yvonne Kershner, Chad Carson, Dick Phillips, Bob Chalker, Rick Lawler, Katrina Katsarelis, Paul Kurt, Dan Boggio, Woody Mann, Jr., Lance LaCour and Kent Rosenberger.

Mann has been chairman of the board for 14 years and said from his position has witnessed the importance of the organization in the Katy area over the past 15 years. As a bit of a history buff, Mann found aerial photos from the Katy area in the 70s and is amazed at the growth over the years. It is almost unimaginable to see photos void of the Grand Parkway, the housing development, hospitals and a school district that are now prominent in the community today.

“The story of Katy is a great one,” Mann said. “But it, just like any other place that grows, has growth and mobility issues that must be addressed.”

Hurricane Harvey, Mann pointed out, made that perfectly clear. “Harvey had a great impact on Katy so the Katy Area EDC is raising public awareness about preventive measures for the future.  It will be a challenge, but the people of Katy are always willing to take on a challenge.”

That optimism, one of Mann’s many attributes, is what makes him a wonderful influence in Katy, LaCour said. “He has impeccable character with great integrity,” shared LaCour. “He is a straight shooter and very diplomatic in all aspects of his business and personal life.”

Personal and Professional Philosophy

Mann has a simple but strong belief that he lives and conducts business by:  “You get out of life what you put into it.”  As a developer, he undoubtedly wants to see financial success but equally important is how a development will serve and enrich the surrounding community. “It’s important to be involved in the community and to give back to it,” he said, adding that he applies that in his personal life.

Mann is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the Katy Area Chamber and has served on the boards of Faith Alive, The Diocese of Texas and The Church Corporation. For 22 years he has been on the Board of Trustees for St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital and St. Luke’s Episcopal Health System. He also served as Chairman of the Department of Finance for the Episcopal Diocese of Texas for 23 years. Additionally, Mann is a member of the International Council of Shopping Centers and the University of Arkansas Alumni Association.

“He has had strong economic impact on the Katy area through his developments, most notably LaCenterra, and has had great impact on the quality in the Katy area,” LaCour said. “LaCenterra is a major top 10 employer in the Katy area and will continue that heritage and contribution to the great ‘sense of place’ that began in 2007.”

From LaCenterra to his works in the community, Mann said he does not see his efforts as something to be praised, but rather an example of the good people can do when they work together.

“It hasn’t been work but more of a pleasure,” Mann said of developing LaCenterra and serving the Katy community. “We’ve met a lot of fine people and established a number of good relationships in Katy. As I’ve said before, life is about what you put into it — all of this was a labor of love — and I’m happy that we’ve been able to contribute in a positive manner to the greater Katy area. To be a part of something that has been enjoyed and continues to be enjoyed is a great feeling.”

The Katy Economic Development Council

Founded in 2003, the Katy Area Economic Development Council’s (EDC) mission is to lead the economic development efforts of the Katy area to recruit, retain and expand new high quality, high impact companies, jobs and talent to improve the quality of life and place of Katy area residents.

Other objectives include: retention and expansion of existing businesses, promotion and facilitation of infrastructure projects to support business development, and improvement of quality of life and place for residents of the Katy area.  The primary service territory of Katy Area EDC is generally defined by the 181 square mile boundary of the Katy Independent School District, which includes the City of Katy, parts of the City of Houston and Fulshear, and parts of Harris, Fort Bend and Waller Counties.

Since its inception, the Katy Area EDC has grown to over 200 members, has a budget of $800,000 and has assisted in the creation of jobs and more than $2.5 billion in capital investment. Katy Area EDC is a full-service private, non-profit, 501 (c) 6 economic development corporation.

To become a member of the Katy Area EDC or for information, visit www.katyedc.org.