News Column

Texas Advisers Weigh New Rules for Main Street Growth

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The various guidelines in play in Main Street Kilgore dominated a discussion by the organization's advisory board Thursday, a debate on how best to maintain a healthy retail mix and how to proceed with the creation of an entertainment district to fuel the city's nightlife.

Property rights was a major element of both topics as the board members tried to find solutions that would balance the need for diversity and progress with building owners' and developers' needs.

Some cities develop restrictive guidelines to curtail certain building uses, like office leasing in retail-focused areas, Kilgore Main Street Manager Clara Chaffin said. Others take a laissez-faire approach or use education and incentives to encourage the growth of retail, restaurants and other downtownfriendly businesses.

"I think it's nice to educate the building owners," said board member and building owner Susie Merritt. "Because I've been involved I know, but a lot of people don't think about it. I don't think you should restrict it, because as a building owner I've found out that sometimes you don't have a choice.

"Sometimes it's so difficult to rent a building at all. But, we like to go with retail when we can. It gives us more downtown for the public to come to. I don't think you can say, 'You can't rent to...'"

"There are some towns that say that," Chaffin said. Granted, "Most of those places that I've come across are bigger towns than we are."

Better to consider an incentive for building owners who decide to rent to certain types of encouraged businesses, Dr. Gerald Spradlin said, if the city wants to achieve a certain mixed-use objective.

"I don't think any kind of regulation telling people what they can and cannot lease to is going to really go over in Kilgore."

Board member Lynda David, a downtown business owner, said she likes the idea of educating building owners on the benefits of renting to certain tenants and also of incentivizing them.

"It might make it a little easier to wait a little bit and not jump to the first office that's there," Merritt agreed.

There are no incentive options in discussion at the moment, Chaffin said, but they can be developed.

"It's really up to the city. Like, a tax savings," she suggested.

"I like the vision," advisory board member and council representative Sherry Bustin said. "That's more pro-growth oriented."

"The city has a vested interest in the health of downtown," Stanglin said. "I think they recognize that."

On a similar note, there have been numerous discussions recently about establishing an Entertainment

District downtown, Chaffin said, an extension to the restrictions and regulations present in the Main Street Overlay District.

The overlay district is a rectangle bounded by Commerce Street and Martin Street on its long sides, capped by Kay Street and Danville. The Central Business District includes storefronts along Main Street from Commerce to Martin and Kilgore Street from South Street to Sabine.

"It just covers the two streets where we see the most businesses downtown, the highest occupancy rates," Chaffin explained. Likewise, an events corridor follows Commerce from Main Street as far as Kay or Lantrip. Future plans there could include a permanent speaker system, a movable stage or other improvements. "We can do a lot with that events corridor if we want to."

The overall plan for the Entertainment District within the Main Street overlay centers around the future renovation of the Crim Theater into, perhaps, a performing arts venue, active movie theater or a similar, multi-purpose use.

"The Shakespeare festival could go in there," Chaffin explained. Concurrently, across the street, "We're looking at possibly 'selling' the Texan, doing a (Request for Proposal) and bringing in something that would complement the (Crim) and that would create that night life that we're looking for downtown."

Surveyed visitors to the Kilgore News Herald's candidate forum in May, which featured the two theaters, said they preferred a "honky tonk" style of business in the Texan, one that would be familyfriendly and include dancing, pool tables and similar activities.

"I think that could be a real catalyst for development, for something real good to happen at the Texan," Stanglin said.

"We need something that is going to put heads in beds and get people into downtown Kilgore," David agreed.

With the theaters as the district's anchor, the city could encourage evening and late-night activity that would become a boon for existing retailers and restaurants while creating a draw for new development.

The first step, however, would be to establish the boundaries of the Entertainment District and the associated regulations, building use restriction, construction guidelines, mandatory operating hours (i.e. 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.) and other particulars, Chaffin said. No such entertainment-oriented guidelines currently exist here.

"If we want to guide what it's going to be, we have to have the district created," Chaffin said.

"We need to move on that," Bustin agreed.

The planned footprint of the district includes property between Commerce and Rusk Street, stretching northeast from Danville Street to just past the Crim Theater along South Kilgore Street.

According to Chaffin, any plans for the area, especially potential construction restrictions, must begin with a discussion between the city and Dr. Charles Whiteside, who owns the majority of the vacant property adjacent to the old Kilgore Post Office and neighboring buildings.

Currently, Chaffin noted, Whiteside's plans for the property focus on apartments, less than an ideal for an area geared toward entertainment. "It's entertainment district. That implies late nights," Bustin agreed. "Does that exclude housing?" It may or may not, Chaffin said, depending on the form the district's guidelines take.

The city's noise ordinance, for example, would limit activity if the area includes residential units, David said.

"I could foresee that, maybe, being problematic," she said, especially if the future buyer of the Texan wants to feature live music. "I would hate to get them down here then restrict their ability to entertain."

Contacted Friday, Whiteside said he's reluctant to invest in anything entertainment oriented, but if that's the direction the city is going, he'll step out of the equation.

"I'm not interested in getting into the entertainment business," he said. Any development on his South Kilgore Street Property is on hold until his planned apartments on Lantrip Street are complete; if entertainment oriented restrictions are put in place in the meantime, it's up to the city's planners to determine how to proceed.

"If they want to do that,

I'll sell them the property and let them develop it." Writing the new guidelines from scratch and drawing from other communities' codes, Chaffin said she is considering everything from street setback to building height, landscaping, broad design schemes, architectural styles for new construction and more, but nothing is concrete. She'll continue work on the draft document for presentation to the advisory board, and ultimately the city council, in February.

"I don't think we have to get too proscriptive," Stanglin said. "What I'd like to see is options. I think we're all on board conceptually."


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