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Leaders reflect on last 365 days

Staff Writer
Herald Democrat
It is still difficult to put a cost to the Oct. 9, 2019 downtown Denison fire.

Last year, the month of October was a time of great loss and strength for Denison’s downtown community as it came together following a fire that burned a hole in the center of the city’s heart and Main Street itself. However, much like the mythical phoenix, city officials and property owners hope to bring life back from the ashes.

City officials have said regrowth and reconstruction is planned for the 300 block of W. Main Street, but it could take some time to develop.

“People were and are unified about getting that section of Main Street rebuilt,” City Manager Jud Rex said. “While construction has not begun yet on this anniversary, there are substantial efforts in place to rebuild.”

It was one year ago that a major fire ravaged the 300 block of Main Street, destroying the Luxor Nails & Spa, two other adjacent buildings and damaging many others in the process. Earlier this year, officials with Denison Fire Rescue attributed the blaze, which started in the salon, to a faulty appliance.

In the days that followed, residents and business owners in downtown came together in way that they haven’t before in support of those who lost their homes and businesses, Rex said.

It is still difficult to put a cost to the October fire. While some businesses were damaged directly others saw impacts in other ways, Main Street Director Donna Dow said.

“It is really hard to put a number to that because, to some level, many others were impacted,” she said.

While some had damage related to smoke from the fire, others suffered roof damage or water saturation. Others were impacted by the fences that were put up following the fire or the loss of electricity during the blaze. Many were forced to temporarily close in the days that followed, and repairs have come slowly for some businesses due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many businesses have had to improvise following the fire, including some that were forced into temporary facilities while repairs are being conducted.

“The ones I know of are reinventing themselves, if you will, and are showing good progress but they are having to work really hard to get there,” Dow said.

The owners of Luxor Nails & Spa have continued to operate using its other location on Morton Street, Dow said. The Desk and Easel, which operated as a communal office and work space with loft homes above, has since relocated to a building on Chestnut, with plans in development for a W. Woodard building. A Timeless Journey, which operated a clothing resale and vintage shop, has since closed permanently due to the fire.

“They had significant inventory in that building, so they just closed after that,” Dow said.

For his part, Rex said he wasn’t in town when the fire occurred. Instead, he and several members of Denison leadership were instead attending a municipal conference in south Texas.

“Myself, Mayor (Janet) Gott and a couple city council members were attending the annual TML (Texas Municipal League) conference in San Antonio,” Rex said. “On that particular morning we were at opening session of the conference and were in the process of receiving an award for our new trash program that we had rolled out. It was literally minutes from us receiving that award and starting that open session.

“That was where we were and definitely not where we wanted to be when that fire broke out.”

Following the news, which was relayed throughout the day via text message, Rex and other leaders started the long trip back to Denison and arrived shortly after nightfall.

Rex said the three property members have plans to rebuild and have laid the metaphorical groundwork by conducting geo-technical surveys of the site. One of the property owners is still trying to address insurance concerns, while another is waiting for the other two to commit and move forward with work

One of the concerns facing redevelopment is how design a building that fits within the historic district while also using modern construction. Rex said there needs to be a balance between modern construction and classic aesthetic.

“As we started working with the property owners in November and December of last year, one of the things we did was bring in an architect from the Texas Historical Commission to help envision what we’d want to do with that property,” Rex said.

Rex used the Marr building, which completed construction this year, as an example of what the city would like built. Instead of the classic brick, the building uses stucco but otherwise matches the look of historic Denison.

“You drive by it, it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb, but you can tell it was made in a different time period,” Rex said.

City officials have said regrowth and reconstruction is planned for the 300 block of W. Main Street, but it could take some time to develop.