The Undercurrent: A vision for downtown takes shape

Kathryn Jones

Kathryn Jones

The first time I saw downtown Glen Rose was in 1996. My mother- and father-in-law had bought some land between Glen Rose and Walnut Springs and brought us down from Fort Worth to look at it. We now all live together on the place we call Far View Ranch eight miles south of town.

I don’t know why I hadn’t visited Glen Rose until then. That first day I thought it had one of the most postcard-pretty squares in Texas. I felt like I’d missed out and I wanted to come back — not only because of local attractions like Dinosaur Valley State Park and Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, but also because of the area’s natural beauty, the history and just the feel of the place.

Driving by the square was so pleasant. It was like a spiritual anchor, with the courthouse clock showing the current time but the structure itself reflecting the past. All around it were buildings that each had a story. They’ll likely be standing long after we’re gone, bearing witness to future events, part of a continuum.

Once we had a place to stay on the ranch, we spent most weekends there, driving down from Fort Worth every Friday night and driving back early Monday morning. When we went into town at night for dinner, downtown was pretty much closed. Even during the day you never knew when shops would be open.

Over the years, business on the square ebbed and flowed. A shop or restaurant would close, then another would take its place – for a while. There’s been almost a complete turnover of downtown businesses during the 17 years since we first visited. The Country Peddler and Over the Hill are the only shops I recall that were open back then and remain in business.

My husband, Dan, and I have dabbled in collecting and selling antiques and we’ve rented space in antique malls for years. We became one of the original tenants when the Rustic Rhinestone opened downtown. The store began keeping regular business hours. And, lo and behold, other shops started staying open more regularly, too.

A couple of years ago, the square often was full of visitors and regulars. Girls Night Out on the third Saturday of each month drew throngs of shoppers downtown. So did festivals and events.

Certainly, high gas prices and a sputtering economy have taken a toll on tourist towns in general. The revaluation of downtown Glen Rose properties last year certainly hurt, too. So just when things were looking up for downtown – wham! Several stores closed and vacant buildings are for sale or have “for rent” signs in the windows. This past Saturday’s Girls Night Out paled in comparison to those of just a few years ago. Not many cars were on the square that night.

I bring up this history and perspective because last Thursday evening a group of concerned citizens met at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites to brainstorm and try to come up with the first steps of a plan to breathe new life into downtown. Attending were County Judge Mike Ford, former mayor pro tem Bob Stricklin, members of the Glen Rose Downtown Association and Glen Rose/Somervell County Chamber of Commerce, downtown business owners, property owners, artists and other citizens who have served on the River Walk committee, the Preservation Board and other city panels. They all have a stake in downtown.

The downtown association, headed by Holiday Inn General Manager Steven Garcia, got the group together for a two-hour exchange.

It was the follow-up to a meeting in June when Ken Devero, the retired head of the nonprofit Downtown Fort Worth Inc., and Garcia led a standing-room-only forum on ways to rejuvenate downtown. Devero and his organization were instrumental in downtown Fort Worth’s transformation from scary-at-night urban center to 24/7 popular tourist destination.

The task was how to put the ideas that came out of the forum into action. As Garcia said, “The people this time are on fire to have something happen.”

To stoke that fire, last week’s meeting was aimed not only at talking about what needs to be done, but making a list, figuring out the “go to” people to make things happen and then following through.

First, the talking part:

One of the problems with downtown is that many people over the years have taken the reins of events like festivals, and then the ball got dropped. When those folks in charge moved or got into other things, the project fell by the wayside. Remember the Celtic Festival? The Moonshine Festival? The Dino Day Festival?

“We get things started for one or two years and then someone leaves,” Stricklin said. “We need a cohesive organization…and some sort of funding mechanism. It takes years to keep rolling and going.”

Right now Glen Rose is without a Convention & Visitors Bureau director since the resignation of Billy Huckaby, and no city events coordinator since the departure of Tara Janszen. The city is moving to fill the CVB director position. Most of the people at last week’s downtown association event doubted the events coordinator position would be included in next year’s city budget.

“A new CVB director is going to be critical to our success,” observed Garcia, who is on the committee the city council appointed to review applications and make recommendations (Councilman Johnny Martin and Fossil Rim Marketing Director Warren Lewis are the other members). “There are some fire-breathing people in that stack of paper.”

As far as downtown events are concerned, “someone has to own it,” Garcia added. “What better person to own it than someone who’s paid to own it?”

Another major concern was the condition of sidewalks and lack of crosswalks downtown. National funding for the “Safe Routes to School” program, which the city, county and school district hoped would be available for Glen Rose, got cut.

Some of the sidewalks are not ADA compliant for people with disabilities, Richardson noted. “They’re a liability,” she said. “Some are in such bad shape, people literally trip. They’re crumbling.”

Downtown sidewalks are considered the responsibility of the property owner, not the city, however. Stricklin said city ordinances would have to be changed to shift that responsibility to city government.

What can be done to encourage downtown shops to keep regular business hours? It’s the classic chicken-and-egg conundrum – if there are no customers, shopkeepers often close rather than keep utilities on and waste their time waiting, and if customers don’t know if a store will be open or not, they may be discouraged from coming downtown to shop.

“As a hotel guy, that’s my frustration,” Garcia said. “There’s nothing worse than when someone comes back (from downtown) and says, ‘It wasn’t even open. Why did you send me down there?’”

Taxes generated a lot of discussion, especially the revaluation of downtown properties that last year jacked up property values two, three, four times and more.

The Texas Comptroller’s office requires that property values be based on “comps” – comparable values when a property nearby sells. When an out-of-town buyer purchased several buildings and paid top dollar for them, that triggered the local Central Appraisal District to revalue other properties.

“The local CAD tried to do everything they could to help,” Ford said, noting that some downtown property owners successfully appealed their valuations. “But there’s not that much wiggle room.”

Ford said he believed tax abatement is the only way to mitigate those higher values, since it’s unlikely the comptroller’s office is going to alter its policies. “If abatement can help that process, I think that’s worth looking at,” he said.

A pedestrian bridge between downtown and Paluxy Heritage Park, which is owned by the county, has been discussed for years and is needed, those attending the meeting agreed. How to get it done?

“Approach the council about donating Heritage Party to the city,” artist Margaret Drake suggested. The county tried that a few months ago and some council members balked, questioning the cost of maintenance. Judge Ford said he didn’t think “the county would stand in the way of that happening. The question is how expensive it is.”

Some of the other suggestions boiled down to getting the city to change some ordinances. Stricklin noted that many of the recommendations in the city’s Comprehensive Master Plan have died because property owners didn’t like them. The city has to re-file the plan every five years and the plan costs about $120,000, so maybe it’s time to get the plan out, dust it off and see what it will take to carry out some of those recommendations.

“It’s beautiful,” Garcia said of the plan. “If downtown looked like that plan recommended, it would be so gorgeous. We’ve got to take some steps. We’ve got to make some things happen.”

Now for the action items. These are what the group came up with:

Possibly establish a special taxing district in which the funds contributed would go back into the district. Stricklin noted it will take the city to do that.

Look at fast-tracking ordinances to speed up work on sidewalks and lighting. Again, that will fall to the city.

*  Approach the city about tax abatement. The county has abatement policies for businesses that generate a certain amount of jobs. The city already gives tax breaks to historical buildings, but not all of the structures downtown fit in that category.

* Make the square more appealing. The east side of the square is at a disadvantage, Ford noted, because festivals and events interfere with parking and access to businesses. “Is there a way to make the square more appealing and don’t stop vehicular traffic from going around the square,” he said. “Maybe we can reconfigure the square access without limiting vehicular traffic.”

* Apply for federal block grants. Richardson suggested getting the city, county and school district together to apply for a block grant.

Stricklin and others stressed that plans and options being discussed are long-term, not short-term, solutions. “It’s going to take three or four years,” he said. “But if we don’t start the journey, we’ll never complete it.”

Let the journey begin.

Kathryn Jones is editor of the Glen Rose Current and vice president of the Glen Rose Downtown Association. She can be reached at editor@glenrosecurrent.com. 

9 Responses to The Undercurrent: A vision for downtown takes shape

  1. Larry P. Smith Reply

    August 2, 2013 at 7:54 am

    I was not aware of this Downtown meeting or I would certainly have been there. After attending every other meeting since late last fall, I was disappointed that I missed this one.

    As reported,the discussions centered on long range plans and those that require City involvement and expenditures, Federal grants or other “longterm” projects. All are worthy and deserve full consideration, especially “Main Street” which can be requested and begun immediately.
    The City of Grapevine obtained a grant from the NTCOG.(My friend,Paul McCallum is Director of the CVB there and responsible for much of Grapevine`s success and progress-too much for Glen Rose plus, it has taken more than 20 years.)

    My comments are for “shorterm” solutions to bring immediate results and improve the look, feel and economy of Downtown. We should not wait on a new CVB Director nor government bodies to do the things that we can do for ourselves and our community.

    Remember! Ken Devero said that Downtown Fort Worth was started,funded and carried out by interested citizens,not downtown merchants who were already strapped with economic burden. I applaud those locally who have come forward in support of Downtown.

    We should follow through with the plan to talk to building owners about rent reductions for even temporary occupancy by artists,craftsmen(gender inclusive)or others who would add flavor to Downtown, help fill empty storefronts and make the Square more vibrant.

    New businesses should be recruited with emphasis on uniqueness and appeal to tourists. They must be assured that progress,revitalizatin and renewal are coming with no turning back.

    The Palace Theatre should be considered for live entertainment or other uses to draw more traffic downtown. I am sure that the owner would be willing to discuss this.

    We need to address the issue of the hours that stores are open,especially on weekends and during events, with full regard to the economic needs of storeowners. And, arrive at a solution.

    Weekend events need to be reevaluated and live music or other entertainment considered plus,selection of a theme befitting the history, culture and the future of Glen Rose.( I don`t have the theme,just the idea. Most towns do and we have more options than anywhere I know.)

    In a prior year with some well-placed advertising and a general feeling of optimism, Downtown was packed with tourists, visitors and new faces on Labor Day weekend. If we get busy and do it now, we can do it again this Labor Day weekend, Aug.31-Sept.2,and kickoff the renewal and revitalization of Downtown.

    • Kathryn Reply

      August 5, 2013 at 8:10 am

      Thank you, Larry, for your comments and for your support of downtown Glen Rose.

  2. Karen Richardson Reply

    August 1, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    Excellent article and comments. Economic incentives are vital and every avenue should be researched and considered.

    I would like to point out that our downtown square will be presented to the Texas Historical Commission for inclusion as a District in the National Register of Historic Places in October, for the 2014 list.

    What this means for income-producing downtown properties is the ability to take advantage of a 20% federal tax credit (not a deduction). For example, the property owners spends $5000 for a new roof, can claim a $1000 tax credit on that check you write to IRS. This is oversimplified, of course they will be some tedious forms.

    What’s the catch? Nada, nothing–0 Contrary to popular belief, the “guv’ment” is not going to impose any restrictions on the property.

    The City of Glen Rose’s Preservation Board, began this project in conjunction with students of Tarleton State University’s graduate Historic Preservation class Spring 2012 under direction from Dr. T. Lindsay Baker.

    Every little bit groups can contribute will help re-energize our downtown business district. It will take all of us doing our part, sharing ideas, followed up by commitment to seeing the job through.

    • Kathryn Reply

      August 5, 2013 at 8:09 am

      Thanks, Karen. I should have mentioned the National Register. I need to follow up with you on that anyway and write a story about what that could mean for downtown.

      Thanks again for your comments!

  3. LeRoy Hodgkinson Reply

    July 31, 2013 at 9:27 am

    We don’t need more taxes: we need less. We need tax breaks for businesses downtown for the first two years. We need a dedicated council to bring in festivals, groups and associations. We need to get out of the hospital, golf business and concentrate on upgrading downtown.

    • Kathryn Reply

      July 31, 2013 at 5:48 pm

      Thanks so much for your comments, LeRoy!
      Best,
      Kathryn Jones

  4. Andra Cryer Reply

    July 31, 2013 at 8:57 am

    This is fantastic news. The fact that so many people care so deeply about the square and revitalization and they are willing to hold formal meetings to discuss it says a lot about the heart of this town. No one wants to see it dry up and blow away. It sounds to me like Glen Rose may need to consider being in the Texas Main Street Program offered through the Texas Historical Commission.

    This is what I gleaned from the THC Website: The mission of the Texas Main Street Program (TMSP) is “to provide technical expertise, resources and support for Texas communities in the preservation and revitalization of historic downtowns and commercial neighborhood districts in accord with the National Main Street Four Point Approach® of organization, economic restructuring, design and promotion.” At the TMSP, staff works on a daily basis with our 84 designated communities to help them reach their revitalization and preservation goals through the framework of the Approach®. This methodology provides the necessary tools for local communities to effectively address the issues downtowns face.

    The Four Point Approach® to Downtown Revitalization Under the Main Street Philosophy

    Organization: Partnerships are essential for successful preservation-based downtown revitalization. Through a solid Main Street structure, many groups that share an interest in the health of downtown come together to work toward an agreed-upon vision for downtown and thus, for the community.

    Promotion: This aspect of the Approach is utilized to market a unified, quality image of the business district as the center of activities, goods and services.

    Design: Capitalizing on the downtown’s unique physical assets and heritage, design activities such as building rehabilitations, utilization of preservation-based tools and ordinances and effective planning practices help to create an active district and maintain its authenticity.

    Economic Restructuring: In this area, a targeted program is developed to identify new market opportunities for the commercial district, find new uses for historic commercial buildings, and stimulate investment in property.

    There are many reasons why downtown revitalization is a crucial tool for enhancing the economic and social health of a community. In addition to being the most visible indicator of community pride and economic health, the historic downtown is also the foundation of community heritage. The historic buildings in a downtown are prime locations for the establishment of unique entrepreneurial businesses and can also be tourism attractors, all of which add to the community’s sales tax collections and property values. Today, massive, look-alike retail centers permeate the national landscape, making it even more important that communities be proactive in saving and using their historic spaces to avoid becoming featureless places. Working in all four activity areas, local Main Street programs rejuvenate these special places.

    Today, there are 84 official Texas Main Street communities all across Texas that range in population from 2,000 to more than 200,000. Cumulatively, designated Texas Main Street communities have reported significant reinvestment into their historic downtowns:

    More than $2.6 billion of overall reinvestment has been reported, of which 65% has been from private investment.
    Additionally, Main Street cities have added almost 29,000 jobs and 7,500 new small businesses to the Texas economy.
    These reinvestments show that there is significant economic development impact from historic preservation. TMSP staff works hand in hand with designated communities to help them achieve their goals.

    I have applied for the CVB position and I would love an opportunity to take Glen Rose in a solid and clear direction.

    - See more at: http://www.thc.state.tx.us/preserve/projects-and-programs/texas-main-street/about-texas-main-street-program#sthash.7oc8DsLy.dpuf

    • Kathryn Reply

      July 31, 2013 at 5:48 pm

      Thanks, Andrea, for your comments and suggestions!

      Best, Kathryn Jones

    • Kathryn Reply

      July 31, 2013 at 5:58 pm

      Andrea, I should add that Glen Rose was part of the Main Street program in the 1990s. Rejoining it was a recommendation that Ken Devero had when he participated in the downtown revitalization program. Thanks again for your comments!

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