Officials with the city of Denison and economic developers shared a vision of downtown, complete with new parks, pedestrian-friendly amenities and dining, during Friday’s Denison Development Alliance Economic Development Summit. The annual event, now in its 16th year, showcases development the city and local industries have made in the past year while offering a glimpse of projects to come.
DDA Vice President William Myers and Main Street Director Donna Dow spoke on the recent events in downtown Denison and proposed plans to update the district into a destination location.
“Of our corridors, it (downtown Denison) generates about 25 percent of our sales tax in Denison,” Myers said, describing downtown as a “small section” of the city. “In 2016, that was about $800,000. This is coming from a mixture of shopping, dining, manufacturing, service industries, histories parks, churches and events.”
Among the projects highlighted during the summit was the upcoming Rustico restaurant. Chef Felipe Gaytan announced his plans to open a gourmet Mexican restaurant complete with a 9,000-square-foot dining room on Chestnut Street in the former Palazzo building. In December, Gaytan told the Herald Democrat that the new restaurant represents a $250,000 investment in downtown.
Myers said Gaytan has received a Destination Creation Grant through the Denison Development Alliance for 15 percent of his costs up to $100,000. The project will further be financed using a Denison Community Investment low-interest loan, Myers added.
Other recent additions to downtown include the district’s first Airbnb short-term rental property, located on W. Main Street. Myers also highlighted 12 additional loft properties that are expected to come on the market soon. This will bring the city close to 50 residential loft properties in downtown.
As a part of future development in the district, Dow highlighted the results from a series of planning sessions with Toole Development Group in November. The purpose of these sessions was to gather public input and design a series of public amenities and upgrades aimed at bringing visitors to downtown.
“We were fortunate in having unprecedented support in this,” Dow said, referring to support from both the City Council and residents.
Under one proposed update to the streetscape, lanes would be moved in to the center of the road to allow for additional space on the sides. This in turn would allow for additional lanes for pedestrians and bicyclists and potential outdoor dining space.
Among the improvements suggested in the Toole plan was the development of the 700 block of W. Main Street into a public park and event space initially dubbed “Top of the Town Park.” The site was formerly the home of Denison High School, and some plans incorporate a clock tower similar to the school’s in the design.
Plans also call for improvements to Heritage Park, which would be redesigned to be expanded into neighboring side streets for events and concerts. The concept art calls for a design similar to a railroad roundhouse, with lines extending into neighboring streets.
“They felt like the roundhouse would honor Denison’s history,” Dow said.
In order to finance these and other updates, Denison approved the creation of a Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone that covers the majority of downtown and entry corridors to the area, including Austin Avenue. Through this zone, the city will set aside a portion of future property tax revenues earned on the increased value in the district and use them for infrastructure and public improvements within the district.
“That whole space represents $78 million of value,” Myers said, gesturing to a map of the district. “Every $1 million we can increase in the value equals $7,593 into the TIRZ fund each year for public improvements.”
In other updates, Dow spoke on new downtown events that took place last year. In its first year, Dow said about 4,500 people crowded downtown for the Doc Holliday Saints and Sinner festival last April. Dow credited a team effort by volunteers and downtown stakeholders for the success.
Another success in 2016 was Denison On Ice — a public skating rink that brought nearly 10,000 people to downtown over the course of the holidays. Dow attributed the success of the event to the publicity and marketing the event received. Beyond just ice skating, the event also increased foot traffic for local businesses, Dow said.