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Downtown revitalization efforts spur progress 


Robert A. Smith, downtown property owner and developer, addressed attendees at the Nov. 13 Chamber of Commerce luncheon about downtown Garland.


He began with a challenge of sorts: “You’ll Be Known by the Downtown You Keep!”


“Are we kick’n our heals up…are we satisfied with what we’ve done or do we want to continue improving the place where we work, where we shop, where we play and where we live?”


Garland’s story began in downtown, which like in most other cities, was the center of commerce. But as the city grew, so did the businesses and the growth spurred the need for new facilities. They moved to larger or more conveniently located, buildings.


“Uses have changed, but the buildings have remained constant,” Smith said.


He added that until recently, downtown has stayed the same “as though horse and buggy days are still with us.”


Smith credited former Mayor Bob Day for the earliest preparations in the development of Trammell Crow’s 5th Street Crossing, the first mixed-use development in downtown. Many see this development as a turning point of the area. The project has now expanded significantly with the City Center, increasing Garland’s tax base and encouraging additional development.


Attempts have been made to bring life back to the area and Garland residents have seen some buildings and homes renovated and some demolished. New businesses have opened and some succeeded while others did not. The square area was completely redesigned in the 1970s and the area was selected to be part of the Texas Main Street program in the 1990s. Ideas and studies came and went, but the buildings themselves remained unchanged.


This time, however, Smith believes that the efforts will bring success. He said that the revitalization attempt will work because it is a better place to do business, there’s an upswing in commercial activity and traffic and the city of Garland is committed to downtown’s success.


“The demolition of the East side of the square began the commitment of significant change; and in addition, merchants and property owners, as well as the chamber and city are seeking a viable organization to partner with regarding downtown efforts,” he said.


There are now businesses in structures that were previously deemed useless. Many of the longtime businesses remain and are thriving and new businesses are coming to the area. A green space was made possible by the demolition of the East Side of the square and folks now meet there for city-sponsored activities as well as for informal gatherings.


Activity is increasing. Life is returning.


Downtown Garland now has two areas that have gained listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Louis and Kay Moore spearheaded a vast improvement/revitalization campaign and then took the steps to get the historic listing for the Travis College Hill residential area on 11th Street. Then the city of Garland was successful in getting the central commercial area of downtown Garland listed as well.


Much is happening but the question is: “How do we continue the momentum?”


One of the most significant answers is to take the advice of people in cities that have been through this revitalization process and succeeded. An assessment was recently performed by the Texas Downtown Association and the results included a variety of ideas.


Some are immediately doable, others require more money and support. A few of the projects included: Creating murals and public arts, hosting events, developing branding for the area; getting vacant properties filled; supporting small businesses; redesigning the square; and more.


The key is to keep the progress coming and continue to build interest in the area. Inform Garland citizens about the city’s history so they will want to see where it all started. Emphasize to the residents that shopping at small businesses benefits everyone. Remind them that instead of going to a department store for a gift or a chain restaurant for dinner, they can do those things in downtown Garland.


As Smith repeatedly said in the program, “You’ll Be Known by the Downtown You Keep!”