Texas Historical Commission Aims To Revitalize Small Town Texas With New Database Website
Texas is benefiting from a major population boom and urbanization in its major metros. But that sometimes comes as a detriment to smaller towns. The Texas Historical Commission is trying to change that by making historic downtown properties all over Texas more easily accessible to investors, developers and business owners.
Through its Texas Main Street Program and Town Square Initiative, THC launched a web application on May 1 called DowntownTX.org that serves as a public inventory of buildings in need of tenants, new ownership or renovations.
“The goal is to highlight properties we think are ripe for reinvestment,” THC director Brad Patterson said. “When we envisioned this, we knew those smaller markets were typically lost in the big sites. This highlights properties and makes them more visible for investors.”
DFW is adding 393 residents daily and Austin adds 159 per day. Harris County’s population growth has slowed, but still looks robust with the addition of 56,600 people in 2016. Bexar County added 33,200 residents in 2016. But you will not find any of Texas’ biggest cities on DowntownTX.org.
From suburbs like Georgetown and McKinney to towns far from metros like Paris and Alpine, the site showcases towns with a mix of populations.
Nineteen cities are available for searching on the site, but Patterson said several other towns should be live in upcoming weeks. Most cities were introduced to the database through the Texas Main Street Program, which has 89 participating cities. Eventually, THC hopes they all will be on DowntownTX.org.
“I think it’s the greatest thing to happen to the Texas Main Street Program since it was established,” Bastrop Main Street Program director Sarah O’Brien said. “There’s nothing like it anywhere else. I think this is something that will be emulated in other states.”
O’Brien hopes DowntownTX.org will connect Bastrop to investors and developers to grow the downtown’s retail offerings.
A given listing includes building tenants, zoning, potential tax credits and incentives, broker information and building overview. But what users see on the front end is just a part of what cities can access on the back end.
“[The site] is a management tool for local officials,” Patterson said. “Officials can see property owners, tenant mix, appraisals and more through one interface.”
Though the data entry has been labor intensive initially, the database will aid in economic development by compiling historical documents, photos and building information in one convenient place, O’Brien said.
Waco Downtown Development Corp. executive director Megan Henderson is excited at the number of ways the interface can be used.
“It puts more information in the hands of the seeker. Eventually you’ll be able to search for a building with a loading dock or a commercial kitchen.”
The more that interested tenants or investors can learn on the site, the more productive conversations Henderson can have, she said.
O’Brien has already gotten some calls from real estate agents who were not previously in her network, inquiring about properties.
Jan Elwell has yet to see much action taken from the new site, but she is working to get her chamber of commerce and economic development team interested. Elwell chairs the board of McKinney Main Street and serves as president of JE Commercial Realty.
“When you have a historic downtown, there are not a lot of institutional owners; it’s a lot of individuals,” Elwell said.
Those individually owned buildings are more difficult to track without the assistance of an appraisal district, main street district or city organization. And for business owners who take a do-it-yourself approach, DowntownTX.org will become valuable.
“There are not a lot of commercial databases for those business owners who like to do it themselves,” Elwell said. “This gives them enough information to make a decision on if they want to explore an opportunity or not.”
Patterson said the database is not exclusively for small towns and suburbs, but he knows downtown revitalization in a small town has different challenges.
“We’ll have building owners who value properties too high next to some owners who value property too low. We have owners who have limited foresight or don’t think their properties would be interesting to investors,” Patterson said.
Those dichotomies have negative impacts on downtowns, and this database aims to fix that.