— By BRIAN SMITH
In the eyes of Weatherford residents and business owners, city officials are on the right track with the downtown plan.
Residents were allowed to voice their opinions on what officials say is the right way to revitalize the downtown area during a public meeting Monday night at the Cotten-Bratton Building.
It was during a February town hall style meeting that about 125 residents and business owners gave their thoughts on what they’d like to see downtown become by the year 2030.
The vision statement for 2030 that came out of the meeting was: “In 2030, historic Weatherford is a vibrant destination for locals and visitors of all ages, offering shopping, dining, living, entertainment and professional opportunities.”
Over the last several months, city staff put together a four-point plan with 20 sub plans. Focus groups and business owners gave their opinions and insights of the town hall meeting results before bringing it to the public. A downtown subcommittee of the Historic Preservation Committee was formed, trying to ensure that anything done meshes with downtown’s historic aesthetics.
During Monday’s two-hour meeting, the main four plans and sub plans were broken down, with residents using clickers to vote on and help determine the importance of each of the sub points.
More inviting downtown
Point one of the plan had three sub-points: improved technology, enhanced aesthetics (lighting, benches, landscaping) and expanded programming to include smaller, monthly events. Many of the items suggested are things that can, and meeting goers would like to see, be done short term.
Residents suggested placing a sub-office of the chamber that would focus on tourism on the downtown square and potentially add additional events.
New jobs, businesses and attractions
Point two of the plan has five sub-points, including the development of a Downtown Business Association, adopting criteria for a neighborhood empowerment zone to create incentives and potential tax breaks for creating a business or updating a present one in the downtown area.
Other sub-points include facade restoration downtown, which received overwhelming support, along with purchasing properties near downtown that would help expand the downtown area, such as Heritage Park.
Residents saw the DBA creation and getting criteria for the NEZ to be very important in the short term.
Director of Planning and Development Craig Farmer said adopting current national building codes, instead of the ones adopted in 2003 by Weatherford, would actually make for easier historic preservation. Creating a downtown coordination team of city, county and chamber officials to ensure projects are getting done and perhaps create more was very popular in residents’ eyes as well.
Perhaps the most popular idea would be the creation of a parking garage and public restrooms. Downtown business owner Sherry Watters said it would be nice to have an area where customers could use restrooms and not have to change a diaper on a public bench, like she has seen happen.
The two areas wouldn’t necessarily have to be connected but just to have them both downtown was considered a short-term goal. Farmer said his department has been contacted with a location for a parking garage but nothing else has been decided.
Paying for the projects could come from a number of areas, including grants, private investors and other entities as well as city funds. Farmer said a bond issue may also need to be considered for some of the projects. Beefing up code enforcement in the downtown area to ensure any renovations blends with what is already there was also considered.
Better defining the downtown area with signs along North and South Main and U.S. Highway 180 was also seen as important in the short term. Having mixed-use centers, such as residential lofts over retail shopping, was given a positive response but with codes needing to change, is not something that would be done in the short term.
Director of Capital Transportation Projects Terry Hughes said one of the keys to the whole plan is a downtown inner loop to take large truck traffic off of U.S. Highway 180. With traffic through the downtown area expected to double over the next 20 years or more, removing the traffic is essential, Hughes said. Alamo, Bridge and Spring streets would be used to create a four lane wide stretch to take people north of downtown and back out on U.S. 180 just west of the square. This would also allow for head-in parking in the area and would increase parking an estimated 20 to 30 percent, Hughes said.
Getting traffic off Fort Worth Highway would also allow streets such as York and Dallas to host small street festivals by closing off the individual streets using temporary bollards.
Getting the inner loop started was seen as very important but the creation of pedestrian and bike lanes received overwhelming support from attendees.
Forwarding the plan
Farmer said the information gathered from the final public meeting would be sorted out and presented to planning and zoning officials before finally being brought before the city council. No time frame to do this was given.