Construction began on the west side of LBJ Drive in January. The project includes a complete rebuild of the road from Hopkins Street to Concho Street. Construction began on the west side of LBJ Drive in January. The project includes
a complete rebuild of the road from Hopkins Street to Concho Street.[/caption]

The city of San Marcos is launching an initiative that aims to foster small businesses and startups downtown while the area undergoes major changes with infrastructure projects and new residential developments.

The project, known as Switchboard, aims to provide small businesses and the creative class in the city with a place to incubate and grow their ideas into successful businesses, Main Street Program Manager Samantha Armbruster said. Armbruster, who is heading up the project, said she hopes that when the businesses get to a point where they are ready to "level up," they will choose to expand in San Marcos rather than move outside the city.

"University alums will start an idea or have an idea, and once they reach a certain point to go to the next level, they leave," Armbruster said. "They go to Austin. They don't have the resources they feel they need here in San Marcos."

Tenants at Switchboard will have the option of renting out entire offices or single workspaces at the program's headquarters on Guadalupe Street. In addition to giving entrepreneurs a business mailing address and meeting space, the program, slated for an April 1 opening, will provide entrepreneurs with monthly training and access to printers and scanners.

"This is our way of getting these businesses up and going," Armbruster said. "When they're ready to launch out of Switchboard, what better place for them to stay than downtown?"


The city, with support from the Vision San Marcos comprehensive plan adopted in 2013, has begun preparing for a denser downtown that features a mix of retail, residential and office space. City officials believe the plan's effect on businesses in the downtown area could be profound.

Projects to widen sidewalks and add landscaping features to LBJ Drive and Hutchison Street to accommodate the expected increase in pedestrian activity are underway. Laurie Moyer, director of capital improvement projects, said construction on Hutchison's sidewalk and parking features should be complete by the end of February after three months of construction.

The planning for downtown's future has included everything from sidewalks and signs to roads, but city officials are hoping a December decision to convert LBJ Drive and Guadalupe Street to two-way traffic will help revitalize the southeast section of downtown.

Guadalupe Street has two-way traffic east of I-35 and west of the highway for about a mile. Beyond where the road switches to one-way traffic, vacant properties and parking lots dot the landscape.

"It's just kind of vacant in that one-way space," San Marcos Permit Center Manager Abby Gillfillan said. "That's where people are just going out as fast as they can. You don't have the friction that's created when people go two-way."

Gillfillan said the Lone Star Rail and conversion to two-way traffic could spur redevelopment of many of the parking lots and vacant areas along Guadalupe Street over the next few decades.

On Jan. 28, the San Marcos Planning and Zoning Commission approved a developer's request to build a nine-story mixed-use development on the 200 block of Edward Gary Street in downtown San Marcos. The building will add more than 340 bedrooms to the downtown when it is completed in late summer 2015.

Matthew Lewis, director of planning and development services, said the decision to include increased residential density downtown will give area businesses a "built-in customer base" of residents.

"That's a quality of life that some San Marcos citizens don't know and are excited about knowing," Lewis said. "We're excited about providing that option, and the market is coming in to provide that option."

The development, known as the Hutchison Street mid-rise, was met with opposition from some. Melissa Derrick, a San Marcos resident, said the city is growing and needs to increase density, but city staff and residents have already agreed on codes that call for buildings no taller than five stories.

"I think five stories is enough, at least for now," Derrick said. "There may come a time when nine stories is acceptable, and there may be a time when we're more and more like Austin than we are today, but we're not today."

Small business woes

Some small-business owners in the area have seen declining sales since construction began and attribute the problem to lack of accessibility and parking near their shops.

Christie's Jewelers, which opened on Hutchison Street in 2010, has seen declining sales since the construction began on the street outside the store, owner Christie Maycock said.

Maycock said when the construction began in September 2012, she was assured it would not disrupt her business. Instead, she said she has had to dramatically reduce her inventory without restocking it. In all, she estimated that staying open through the construction has cost her about $130,000. Despite the problems construction has caused in the area, Maycock is taking a positive outlook.

"We'll survive," she said. "We have a very hearty group of loyal customers. I'm so thankful. When all is said and done, it will at least be worth it."

When construction on the left lane of LBJ Drive from Hopkins Street to University Drive began in January, Ruben Becerra, owner of Gil's Broiler, a staple of downtown since the mid-1940s, wanted to make sure his customers understood the right lane of the road leading to his business was still open. The sign in front of the construction that read "Road closed" would lead potential customers to think otherwise, he said. As soon as the sign went up, he asked construction workers to replace it with a more accurate one.

"They immediately changed it to say 'Lane closed,'" Becerra said. "The city and the contractors have been very accommodating to the merchants."

Becerra said the road construction, which is scheduled to end in mid-August, according to city staff, has not had much effect on his restaurant.

"It's a painful investment, but it's going to help us immensely," Becerra said.