This is an exciting time for downtown Victoria.
In the few years since the City assumed management of the Main Street Program, downtown has been busy with new businesses, new event programming and new development.
We’re entering a new phase of growth with the implementation of the downtown master plan. With help from our consultant and input from hundreds of community members, the master plan articulates our community’s goals and outlines tools and programs that will help us to achieve those goals.
One of the short-term economic development opportunities identified in the master plan is the establishment of a cultural district. Obtaining a cultural district designation will help us to attract artistic enterprises, promote tourism, grow the downtown economy, preserve our history and foster cultural development. The City will submit an application for this in June to the Texas Commission on the Arts. We expect to learn this summer whether our application is accepted.
Many of our residents also said they’d like to see more nightlife downtown. To help accomplish this goal, we’re exploring the creation of an entertainment district. Staff are still working out the details with the City Council, but the idea is to create regulations that would provide marketing opportunities for bars and restaurants as well as set guidelines that would let businesses make better use of their storefronts and sidewalk space.
The designation also includes measures to foster events, including specialized permitting that would make it easier for patrons to move between bars, restaurants and shops. This would include letting patrons move around with alcoholic beverages (drink responsibly!), provided that they follow establishments’ TABC licenses and applicable state laws.
Our survey respondents confirmed that DeLeon Plaza is the “heart” of downtown, the first thing people think of when they talk about the area. One of the master plan’s long-term projects is an expansion of DeLeon Plaza that would include new amenities like restrooms, play areas and upgraded lighting. The expansion would ultimately include the part of Forrest Street adjacent to the plaza, converting it into a walkable area with seating, water features and space for food trucks as well as pop-up businesses across the street. We are currently in the design phase of this project, and we hope to have it completed in time for the bicentennial celebration in 2024.
As always, we will explore grants and other resources that will help us fund this development. For example, establishing a cultural district will open up new grant opportunities; also, the City Council last year established a tax increment reinvestment zone downtown, which lets us set aside funds for development without creating a new tax. Remember that many of the master plan projects (like the cultural district and the entertainment district) require little to no investment, and all of them will help to grow our economy in the long run.
The Main Street Program and our stakeholders are tackling a diverse set of initiatives this year, but it’s important to remember that all of these separate undertakings are really serving the same goal: building a thriving downtown where residents and out-of-towners can visit, have fun and support local businesses. As the new manager of the Victoria Main Street Program, I’m excited to be a part of this growth that will benefit all of Victoria.
Kate Garcia is the manager of the Victoria Main Street Program.