By Joshua Winata
The Cove Herald
The edge of the Hill Country: a combination of ruggedness and elegance built upon the quintessential Texas industries of farming, ranching and railroad, and embodied by the iconic Lone Star.
That’s the inspiration for downtown Copperas Cove’s new theme, voted on by downtown shareholders at a joint workshop on Tuesday with the Copperas Cove Economic Development Corporation and City Council. Downtown business owners, city staff and other interested parties also provided input.
During the meeting at City Hall, urban design consultants from Arlington-based Schrickel, Rollins and Associates presented the draft of the master plan to revitalize downtown, which also included three thematic options from which to choose to unify the entire district.
Setting the Timetable
The CCEDC contracted SRA in April to develop a master plan for downtown Copperas Cove. The purpose of the plan is to stimulate economy in downtown by giving it a distinct identity and visual character and making it a destination for shopping, eating and socializing.
The consultants began their work with a site reconnaissance on June 5, defining areas of downtown and collecting photographic documentation. The firm met with shareholders on July 19 to discuss their findings and allow citizens to express their concerns and wishes.
From the feedback received from that meeting and from Tuesday’s workshop, the consultants developed a master plan, which examines the eight-block property between the railroad and Avenue F and between Third and South Fourth streets.
The final draft is scheduled for review in November with council approval tentatively set for January 2008.
The finalized master plan will contain recommendations on design elements and design standards, estimated costs and prioritized recommendations for phasing.
A Texas Perspective
Out of the three design options proposed by SRA, the “Edge of Hill Country” theme, based on the natural stone and architecture of the region, won by a landslide vote of the stakeholders.
“This theme really came from a Texas perspective,” said Linda Jordan, SRA master planner.
The design incorporates Austin limestone with green, patinaed copper finishes that will be applied to new trash receptacles, benches, bicycle racks, street lighting and awnings.
A gateway structure, made of two limestone obelisks spanned by a strip of decorative metal, is planned at the entry point into the downtown district at Fourth Street and Avenue D. Green colored pavers, arranged in a Lone Star design, will anchor the primary downtown intersections of Avenue D and South Main Street and South First Street.
In addition, four abstract icons based on farming, ranching, railroads and the Lone Star will be engraved on elements throughout downtown to create thematic unity.
“What we’re trying to do is get a family identity that would serve the entire downtown and unify downtown as a whole group,” said Clint Wofford, SRA senior landscape architect.
Stakeholders were also shown two other choices, which were both rejected. The “Reflections” theme, inspired by the city’s name, uses a motif of two Cs facing opposite directions — symbolic of looking to both the past and future — to form a circle design. The scheme combines a mineral copperas red with limestone and an Ashlar pattern.
The final and least popular option, entitled “Transit,” was influenced by the city’s industrial railroad heritage and draws on train depot architecture in a steel gray, brick brown and cobalt blue color palette. An emblem emulating the BSNF railroad logo is used as a unifying element.
In a simple count of raised hands, the Hill Country theme received 24 votes compared to the 10 received by the Reflections theme. Transit did not receive any votes.
The consultants assured stakeholders that the design schemes could be mixed and matched and that changes could be made to adapt to personal preferences of budget constraints.
The Big Idea
Before the cosmetic thematic elements could be discussed, the consultants first addressed basic improvements that would make downtown a safer, more attractive and pedestrian-friendly zone.
Significant shortcomings brought before the stakeholders by SRA were disorganized parking, disconnected sidewalks, accessibility issues, continuous driveways and a lack of color due to vast stretches of pavement.
“I just want to challenge you to look at the big picture,” SRA Vice President Victor Baxter said. “As the project develops and you go through various stages of design, construction and implementation, things can shift and move around, but you need to buy into the big ideas first.”
Breaking it down block by block, the consultants explained ways to break the expanses of asphalt by narrowing the streets to a standard lane width of 12 feet and using the excess space to add aesthetic and pedestrian-friendly elements.
“What we can do is capture some of those areas that used to be street and make those green space and also make a pedestrian corridor by adding in sidewalks,” Wofford said.
Wofford also presented suggestions for reconfiguring parking that would be safer and more efficient. He proposed adding parallel parking along streets running north to south and along West Avenue D, which would also act as a buffer between pedestrians and traffic. Parking lots for Ace Hardware and Cove Theatre on the north side of downtown were also realigned and shifted northward to create additional room for trees and walkways.
The consultants had many ideas for Avenue E, which measure 60 feet wide, including expanded parking, landscaping, wider sidewalks and even a pocket park, or community gathering space, to be developed on a currently vacant lot.
“It’s a great street to work with. It’s so wide, and there are so many things you could do with it,” Wofford said. “There’s potential for being able to close this area of town off for festivals because it’s a wide street, and it would be central to downtown.”
Other recommendations included conducting a signal study to improve safety at the irregular intersection of Avenue F and South Main Street and redeveloping the southeasternmost block of the downtown district, which is currently mostly residential.
Getting It Done
While a revitalized downtown is an attractive idea for Cove residents, actually putting the plan into action is a daunting task.
The city has attempted to revitalize downtown before, most recently in 1997 and 2003, with limited success. Citizens, then, are questioning what makes this time around any different.
“This is a plan, and Copperas Cove has never done a master plan for downtown,” CCEDC Executive Director Jerry Conner said.
Conner reminded the crowd that tasks can be prioritized and broken down into phases to make it more manageable, but just having a plan is already a major advantage.
“We have options. They’re good options, but the options are no good until everybody decides what plan we want to use, and then it will all fall into place after that,” he said.
The SRA consultants said they would not able to give an estimated cost on any of their recommended themes until the design development phase, but they did assure stakeholders that all the ideas could be customized to fit the city’s budget.
“It’s hard to pinpoint how much each one of these concepts would cost, but what we can do is tailor any of these concepts to the budget you have to spend on it,” Wofford said.
The consultants also suggested that local business owners could contribute to minor costs like awnings, benches or greenery. Grant money is also available for downtown revitalization.
“It helps when you’re asking for money, whether its a grant or donation, to have a plan that you’re working from,” Jordan said. “This is the first step.”
Contact Joshua Winata at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 547-6481