The Denison City Council voted to move forward with plans to issue $1 million in debt for design work on the first phase of proposed improvements to downtown Denison and Main Street. With Monday's action, the city will now publish its intent to move forward with the debt.

The item passed with a unanimous vote with little discussion by the council.

In late 2016, the city started efforts and visioning on improvements designed to encourage redevelopment and bring new life to the city's core. These efforts culminated with initial designs and renderings for a number of improvements ranging from new parks to street and infrastructure upgrades.

“I think the goal is to make downtown Denison into a vibrant 24-hour community where people live shop and play,” Denison City Manager Jud Rex said.

In November 2016, consultants with Toole Design Group conducted a series of public interviews and visioning sessions aimed at assessing the need and desire for public projects and amenities in downtown. These sessions ultimately led to a series of preliminary plans and drawings of proposed projects including a new park on the former site of Denison High School and improvements to Heritage Park.

As the city is looking to move forward with the improvements, city staff are recommending that the city contract with Toole again for definitive designs for the project. As of Monday, city officials estimated the planning phase could take 15 to 18 months to complete.

Rex said this first phase of improvements will extend from the 100 block of East Main across Austin Avenue to the 200 block of West Main for a total of about three blocks. Rex said this area was chosen as many of the buildings are vacant and there is room for redevelopment that will hopefully be encouraged through public improvements.

As an added bonus, as the area has vacancies, Rex said, there would be less people disturbed during the first phase of work.

To finance construction and planning for these projects, the city set up a tax increment reinvestment zone to collect future property tax revenues. Using the TIRZ, the city will collect tax revenues over the base amount set in 2016 and store them in a separate account specifically for the improvements.

The district encompasses much of the downtown historic district, but also extends north and includes portions of Morton Street. Previously, Rex said he was optimistic that as the improvements took place, the private sector would take notice and start reinvesting in downtown properties. This in turn would increase the value of the property and add additional revenue to the TIRZ, thus financing future improvements.

Rex said city officials expect to have enough funds in the TIRZ by 2020 to start construction on the first phase. These funds will be used to pay off the debt payments rather than paying for the project outright, Rex said. With additional debt expected to be issued in a few years, Rex said the debt from this project might be rolled into those future projects.