By Moses Leos III
If you’ve driven down Center Street toward Interstate 35 this week, chances are a tall Texan wearing a ten-gallon hat greeted you.
The Texan, which is new signage installed on the side of Milt’s BBQ, is one of several projects that are part of the Downtown Business Revitalization Program.
While funding for the program is nearing its end, Kyle Economic Development Director Diana Torres said she hopes the initiative spurs foot traffic to the downtown sector.
“It’s a benefit for (the city) to create an energetic and vital downtown,” Torres said.
The program, which was originally created in 2005 but shelved four years later, was reinstated during the 2015 budget process.
Torres said there was initial interest in the program during its inception, but it “didn’t have the attraction.” She said the city advertised the program on social media, and she talked about it during speaking opportunities.
But the lack of interest forced the city to place the program on hiatus in 2009. It wasn’t until 2015 when the program found legs again after the Kyle City Council appropriated funds for it.
The program, which is a matching grant program, allowed applying businesses with a capital investment of $1 million to be reimbursed for exterior improvements to existing facades.
Torres said the grant program helped businesses by walking them through the proper permitting processes.
The project then went before the Economic Development board, then the city council for ultimate approval.
According to Torres, the city then continued to check in on the projects. Businesses that apply had 90 days to complete the work before their grant application lapsed.
“Sometimes that puts some gas in there behind them,” Torres said. “That pushes them on.”
But the program soon ran into issues with businesses completing work that wasn’t approved. Some projects, she said, didn’t go through the developmental process.
It led the Kyle City Council to not fund the program in the fiscal year 2016 budget.
But applications still kept coming in for the program. Torres said applications from Milt’s BBQ, Lone Star Kettle Corn and On Center Realty for façade improvements were received.
For Torres, the benefit of the program is the improvement to the properties themselves.
She said improvements to properties turns into an “increased tax base” for the city to focus on.
An important component, according to Torres, was helping downtown compete with larger commercial areas, such as the FM 1626 and Interstate 35 area.
One fear for “any small town”, Torres said, was losing the identity of downtown.
“There are a ton of people that live in downtown that don’t know where city hall is,” she said.
Torres said the construction of Marketplace Avenue could help draw people living in Hometown Kyle and Plum Creek to the downtown sector.
Council member Diane Hervol, who has advocated for the program, said it is “very heartwarming” to see the additional signage go up in the downtown area.
She said the program helps make sure small businesses “stay in place.” It also allows smaller businesses to draw traffic and compete with big box stores.
Hervol cited the success of the Texas Pie Company, which features signage from Great Big Signs.
Torres said it’s encouraged, but not required, for businesses to work with local sign companies for façade improvements.
“I don’t know of anyone with a 3D slice of pie (on their building),” Hervol said.
Torres hopes the program leads to business owners taking pride in their properties.
“Even if the grant program doesn’t continue, hopefully people continue to make improvements to property, where it improves downtown and makes people want to go,” Torres said.