The revitalization of downtown San Angelo has been a long time in the making. There are still many vacant buildings that are unutilized, and space on the Concho riverbanks to fill. As part of the Downtown Development Master Plan that originated in Dec. 2012, Catalyst Urban Development was contracted in Phase II, about six months ago, to provide redevelopment strategies, and make recommendations on how to revitalize downtown in a way that attracts new businesses, promotes tourism, and more activity in the area.
“Downtown is truly what makes San Angelo regionally unique,” said Paris Rutherford of Catalyst Urban Development at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. “The history, the river, all of the great work you all have already done up to this point is something worth noting. That is what advances and strengthens the brand of the city regionally.”
In the past seven years, San Angelo has seen a number of new businesses and their buildings erected (along Sherwood Way in particular) which has added more variety to shopping within the city and keeps financial gain local. As Rutherford pointed out, those types of buildings and businesses—big box retailers and eateries— are being planted everywhere throughout Texas, the design is the same no matter what town they’re in, they really don’t bring anything original to the table and make San Angelo unique.
And while the big boxes have discovered Sherwood Way and Loop 306, nothing much has been added to downtown in recent years; new additions have consisted of only small local businesses. Rutherford explained that the older infrastructure makes it difficult to footprint the land in modern-day real estate transactions. Also, some historic buildings require costly renovations before they can even be considered inhabitable by a business or housing developer.
“Generally speaking that equates to a higher cost for development, because of that there is a higher perception of risk,” Rutherford elaborated. “If I’m an investor coming in and looking at doing a deal on the edge or in the core (of town) it seems a little more risky to develop in the core.”
He continued to explain that the risk is what is driving investors to want to build on the edge of town. It takes more money and more red tape clearing to invest in downtown than it does to build completely new structures on the edge of town.
The consultant outlined programs and grants that are available and could be utilized by the city, such as tax abatement programs and tax credit programs. Also, economic development, historic building, and infrastructure grants could be used to repair some of the older buildings for re-purpose. These programs use federal money, allowing construction without consuming the general revenue fund of the City of San Angelo. He also suggested that parking lots be planned in areas where there is expected to be heavy traffic during events such as the Rodeo Parade or the Blues Festival, and to allow for more parking for future business.
Rutherford used examples of some vacant buildings downtown that could benefit financially from a face lift, such as the Contential building on Beauregard. He suggested some of those buildings be used for office space, attracting more white collar businesses. Basically, the mantra throughout was that better looking buildings attract investors and their funds more than an old run-down eyesores. If the city and owners of downtown's vacant buildings can join and work together in harmony, downtown can generate a considerably larger amount of funds than it does now.
“I think it’s important to note that to expect the kind of vision that you all have identified in your prior studies for downtown, there are likely fairly sizable gaps that go with those projects. So, the question becomes: Are you in agreement, as a body, to be the catalyst for projects move forward or will the market just take care of itself? In downtown, it’s difficult for the market to take care of things on its own because of the extra cost. I think for downtown to go to the next level there needs to be some new investment at a larger scale, that starts to revamp existing buildings in total, not tear them down, revamp them.”
This is just phase two in a four phase plan to revitalize the downtown area, which upon completionis to be a thriving area of business, activites, and more.
To learn more about the Downtown Master Development Plan, visit www.cosatx.us. Once there, click on the departments and service tab, then select planning.