Downtown doldrum? Kyle contemplates ways to revitalize city center

A robust mixed-use district combining residential and retail components is something city officials envision for a future downtown Kyle.

But as stakeholders and officials discussed downtown Kyle’s future in a March 7 meeting, questions still linger on what it all could look like and how it can be done.

Kyle might ultimately apply to join the state’s Main Street Program, which helps to revitalize downtowns throughout the state. To join the program, the city would need to hire a Main Street manager and pay an annual $535 fee.

When the city reaches a population of more than 50,000, the fee would rise to $3,000 per year. Kyle’s current estimated population is roughly 47,000.

“To move a downtown forward, you need the city, stakeholders, volunteers and citizens on board with the same vision,” said Kyle Kramm, Seguin Main Street director, who spoke at the meeting. “It’s not one big project that will save downtown, but small changes over a long time.”

Kramm said joining the Main Street program has its perks, which includes being connected on a network of 2,000 cities across the nation. Additionally, the job of the Main Street director is to work with the community to bring unique events to downtown. This will help bring people back to downtown Kyle to shop and dine.

Most attendees at the March 7 meeting supported applying for the Main Street program. However, they also voiced concerns about downtown walkability, traffic and safety.

“You do get a lot of services, but Main Street isn’t for every city,” Kramm said. “…I think (downtown Kyle) has a lot of potential. You have dining options that Seguin didn’t have, and that hurt us. Next would be recruiting retailers and bringing new development downtown.”

The clock is ticking if the city chooses to apply for the Main Street Program. A letter of intent would need to be submitted to the Texas Historic Commission by late April; the final deadline is July 31.

Kyle City Council Member Tracy Scheel said the city would need to budget money for the new position. A decision could be made in the coming weeks as Kyle starts the planning process for the Fiscal Year 2020 budget.

San Marcos and Buda both are part of the Main Street Program. Both programs in the neighboring cities have been deemed a success, aiding in the revitalization efforts in local downtowns.

Kyle’s downtown district has some growth restraints.

The Union Pacific railroad track can bottleneck traffic downtown. Additionally, Center Street is the main access point to reach downtown, which some feel incentivizes commuters to speed through instead of stopping and enjoying the services.

A downtown center surrounded by properties zoned for residential use is also a unique issue that has impacted economic development.

If the residents of these multi-generational homes don’t sell, limited development might follow.

However, city officials said they aren’t looking to “gentrify” the neighborhood and force families to leave.

“Downtown Kyle is very residential. It’s five times more residential than commercial with single-family residents,” said Howard Koontz, planning director for Kyle. “We have a neighborhood in our downtown. But we have to be cognizant and respectful. It’s not an impediment, but an opportunity.”

Koontz said the city is looking at the downtown district to distinguish how intense the land use should be. Part of this plan includes an aesthetic revitalization with trees, wider sidewalks, more walkability, building heights and other structural requirements.

But Kyle’s large population in the downtown sector would mean cautious development, especially around existing homes. While there is an idea for future development in the two blocks surrounding downtown, doing so could impact single-family homes.

Jerry Hendrix, Kyle chief of staff, said the city has compiled some ideas on the future identity of downtown. In addition to improved walkability and green spaces, Hendrix said yhe city wants to encourage retail buildings with residential units above.

“When you come to downtown, you want to see the character and businesses of downtown and that’s what we can create here,” Hendrix said. “You want to know you’ve entered a special place and that theme needs to be carried throughout the district.”

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