Main Street's transformation

City program promotes downtown businesses

After purchasing the former firehouse bay building in June, ThunderCloud Subs owners began the process of transforming the industrial space into a restaurant.

"We've got all our designs passed [through the Historic and Architecture Review Commission]," said David Cohen, director of development for the Austin-based restaurant. "We are getting a few details worked out and will be sending those on to the city for permitting."

The restaurant, which could begin construction in January, was granted $10,500 from the Main Street Program's faade and sign grant program to help pay for building improvements.

Cohen said the restaurant, located at 814 S. Main St., could open in early March and will keep the building's industrial look.

Main Street revisioned

The building is one of several buildings along Main Street in downtown Georgetown that is currently undergoing renovations.

"Main Street is going to be transformed in 2013," Main Street Program Manager Shelly Hargrove said. "A majority of the projects in downtown are happening right there."

Georgetown's Art Center, which has been in the works for more than a year, is expected to open in 2013 in the historic firehouse at Main and Ninth streets, and City Council approved at its Dec. 11 meeting a splash pad that will be built in front of the building. The city is also expanding the sidewalk and removing on-street parking on a portion of the western side of Main Street between Eighth and Ninth streets.

"We were given the opportunity to look at redeveloping the corner of Main and Ninth [streets], and, along with the ThunderCloud Subs project, to expand the downtown one extra block and create an attraction, which would serve as a park, an outdoor eating space and an entertainment space," Library Director Eric Lashley said at the Dec. 11 City Council meeting. "The Art Center, sidewalk expansion and pocket park project has been met with great support and enthusiasm."

Hargrove said the city's goal for 2013 is to make downtown a signature destination, and construction on Main Street is expected to draw people into downtown.

"We have vitality alive on the Square that is just superb; businesses are active, and new businesses are pending," Mayor George Garver said. "The city is invested in restructuring certain portions of downtown all designed to help increase people's desire to be part of our downtown area."

With the help of the city's Convention and Visitor's Bureau and Arts and Culture board of directors, Hargrove said the Main Street Advisory Board and Main Street Program would work throughout 2013 to plan projects and events to bring visitors to the downtown area. The city already hosts several events in downtown, including the Georgetown Swirl in March and the Red Poppy Festival in April.

"We're trying to figure out how we can move these projects forward over the next year," Hargrove said, adding that the groups could also look at creating an outdoor venue downtown to host events without blocking traffic from the Square.

"Part of creating that destination includes live music, arts, as well as adding restaurants and wineries," she said.

For more than a year, the city has been working to attract restaurants and wineries that would help bring tourists to the Square, she said.

In October, Gumbo's North opened in the Masonic Lodge building at 701 Main St., and Grape Creek Vineyards is constructing a tasting room and wine production area that could be open in early spring at the corner of Seventh and Main streets.

Helping businesses

For more than 30 years, Georgetown's Main Street Program has worked to promote historic preservation and economic revitalization in the community. The program works with commercial property owners in downtown districts with a four-point approach—organization, design, promotion and economic restructuring.

"[Georgetown's] Main Street [Program] getting started in 1982 got people to refocus on the Square truly as the heart of the community," Hargrove said. "I don't know if we can really afford not to focus on downtown."

During the past eight years, the Main Street Program has awarded more than $226,000 in faade and sign grants to downtown-area businesses, including more than $23,000 in the 2012 fiscal year.

For owner Ken Covington of Ken'z Guitars located on Main Street, receiving a sign grant for his business helped him cover additional costs after his relocation.

"It was just nice to get a little break because everyone is always wanting money from you," Covington said. "It's expensive moving into a place as it is. They paid for the sign, which was about $500."

Along with grants, the program offers business owners access to architects and design assistance through the Texas Main Street Program, which was established in 1981.

"Looking at each of the individual properties that have [been] renovated, without some of the free design assistance that's offered through the Texas Main Street Program—I don't think many of these buildings would have changed much through the years," Hargrove said. "They would have stayed boarded up or with old blue awnings, and it would be a totally different dynamic."



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