The Denison City Council recently received an update on the $45 million plans to revitalize and redesign the city’s downtown. The project, which is nicknamed D3: Designing Downtown Denison, will involve the investment of public funds in hopes of bringing life back to the city’s core.
“We will be investing in public improvements that will spur private investments,” City Manager Jud Rex said Monday. “If we can make investments in Main Street that make it more attractive, then that really is what our goal is.”
The improvements will span the majority of downtown, with a focus on Main Street from the railroad crossing west to Armstrong Avenue. The project will include improvements to six public parking lots, two public parks and the creation of a new community center and park in the 700 block of West Main Street.
The update came as the council received a report on Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone No. 3, which encompasses the downtown district and neighboring commercial corridors. Through this zone, the city is able to collect and set aside a portion of future tax revenues for improvements in downtown.
The TIRZ was created in late 2016, and collects tax revenue based on the value of properties when the zone was created. As the properties increase in value, the TIRZ collects the excess tax revenue over the initial amount. In creating the zone, the city included neighboring areas, such as Morton Street, as a way of increasing the collection area for the TIRZ.
In the first two fiscal years for the TIRZ, Rex said the fund has collected about $165,616 — an amount slightly higher than originally forecast. These funds will be used to finance future bonds used for the project, Rex said.
In the update, city officials incorporated design and concepts for the improvements that have come since the zone was created, outlined the area for the first phase of work and added the Denison Hotel to the scope of the project. Rex said the hotel was added to the project scope so the city could potentially use funds in the future to assist in efforts to improve and redevelop the property.
In late 2016, the city contracted the Toole Design Group to do initial planning and concept work for the improvements. As part of the planning process, the consulting firm collected public input on improvements and features residents would like to see in downtown in the near future.
These meetings culminated in a conceptual design for downtown Denison that featured increased pedestrian improvements, upgrades and enhancements to both the city’s pocket park and Heritage Park, and the creation of a new Top of the Town Park at the site of the former Denison High School.
For the council, Rex outlined changes in the plan that have occurred since Toole presented its initial plans. Initial concepts for Main Street called for the reduction in lane space with additional room for bike lanes, street trees and spot and parallel parking. However current plans eliminate the bike lanes in favor of additional pedestrian space on both sides of the street.
Rex added that the new design for the streets will not feature curbs. This will be helpful for individuals with mobility concerns and also during major events and festivals in downtown, he added.
For the first phase of work, Rex said the city plans to improve areas on the eastern portions of the TIRZ between Rusk and the railroad tracks on Main Street. In addition, officials plan to also improve neighboring alleyways, and two parking lots along this portion of Main Street.
For this phase of the project, Rex said the city plans to issue a $7.5 million bond sometime in 2019 or 2020. Planning for this phase alone is expected to cost Denison about $1 million, Rex said.
Following the initial announcements on the project, Rex said the public response has been very positive and that residents are excited to see the improvements in downtown.
“Overwhelmingly, the community feels like the city is making a great investment in its heart,” he said.