No “clear vision” plus the presence of vehicular traffic and the railroad, are factors that could hamper the future of Kyle’s downtown; but the involvement of residents and business owners, as well overcoming the fear of taking risks are positive factors, was reported to the city council last month.
The “Downtown Kyle Assessment Report” was compiled by the Texas Downtown Association (TDA) in the wake of a visit on Aug. 23, 2019.
Catherine Sak, the organization’s executive director, laid out the “pros” and “cons” of what was discovered that day – first in a City Hall meeting involving more than 40 stakeholders and then on a “walking tour” that included meeting with downtown business owners as well as visitors to the area.
“Downtown is the heart of your community,” Sak said. “It is a unique sense of place that attracts new businesses and visitors. Downtown is also a retention tool – employers will see less turnover when they have workers intent on staying within the community. People choose where they want to live based on quality of life.”
In introducing Sak, Council member Dex Ellison noted that downtowns are important to cities, in particular those like Kyle, located “outside two large cities,” but that “doesn’t want to be just another suburb of Austin.”
Noting downtown’s history, Ellison admitted there are challenges, but said the degree of interest residents and others have displayed “further proves downtown is important to everyone in the city.”
Sak, who said her organization has worked with more than 100 communities across the state, said downtowns occupy a high priority “no matter the region or economic group.” In fact, she said, it’s a “top three” issue in most communities.
“A strong, vibrant downtown leads to a strong, vibrant community,” she said. “You have a great downtown. It’s compact, which makes it manageable. It’s the historic and cultural center of your community – it’s where Kyle began. Downtown Kyle has a number of residential units and strong and established neighborhood surrounding it.”
Although traffic is a hindrance – in particular because Center Street is also a state highway – and trains can cause traffic backups, Sak said both can be considered a blessing as well as a curse. Proximity to Interstate 35 provides easy access to downtown, she noted, and drivers stuck waiting for a train have more time to notice their surroundings, including new businesses. “I know it’s inconvenient, thousands of people driving through everyday, but it provides an opportunity to connect with those people.”
Going forward, Sak suggested small steps and designating city staff to concentrate on the downtown area. “You have an opportunity to use existing building stock and infrastructure that’s already in place.”
She would also spur the city to address pedestrian safety, perhaps with more signage, perhaps with painted, attention-drawing crosswalks. Improving sidewalks and their connectivity would also make people more comfortable coming downtown, Sak said, and specific zoning overlays could prove helpful in revitalization efforts.
She also recommended going “all in” on the Pie Capital of Texas – observing “pie days,” having pie-throwing contests. “That’s what makes you different. Embrace that – I want to see big pieces of pie everywhere.”
Redoubling efforts to encourage shopping local was also among her suggestions, as well city staff and leadership taking road trips to see how downtown revitalization efforts have taken hold elsewhere. “Look forward, not back. Formulate a plan of action for next year – low cost, high impact projects. Don’t take on too much too fast.”
Council members including Ellison and Alex Villalobos noted that foot traffic has increased in the downtown area after the Christmas decorations were put up and lit.
“In the last couple of weeks, downtown is attracting a lot of walking traffic,” Council member Robert Rizo said. “We need to find something to do that on a weekly basis. Keeping families there – that’s what we need to target.”
“We need to start small and be very specific – it builds from there,” Villalobos said. “Clear, specific, directed and diverse. A lot of those ‘cons’ are opportunities. We need to focus on supporting everything down the line that makes it more seamless.”