By Kevin M. Smith
Killeen Daily Herald
Two years ago, the Killeen City Council agreed to pay HyettPalma $65,000 for a study and a plan to revitalize downtown.
One year ago, the council accepted the plan and agreed to implement it.
"You can't do a project like this without a plan," said Beverly Zendt, downtown project manager.
Since then, the city has hired Zendt, and a committee meets monthly to discuss progress.
Without hesitation, Patton Kaufman said he thinks the HyettPalma study and action agenda were worth the $65,000. Kaufman, who chairs the Downtown Partnership Committee, said that's the most important step the city has taken for downtown revitalization.
"It goes back to your consciousness that something ought to be done," Kaufman said.
HyettPalma, a Virginia-based national consulting firm specializing in the economic enhancement of downtown areas, worked with city officials to survey residents and analyze downtown Killeen's current and potential assets.
"The Downtown Action Agenda is not a play or a study, but a five-year, strategic course of action," the plan states.
It gives a vision for downtown Killeen in 2012 and the steps to get there.
"By the year 2012, downtown Killeen would be a multi-cultural, inclusive, family-friendly, pedestrian-oriented destination that has a warm, comfortable atmosphere," the action agenda reads. "People would be attracted to downtown as a great place to shop, dine, play, work, live and worship."
There are not many visible marks of work done so far, Kaufman said.
"If you don't drive downtown very often, you're not going to see the subtle changes," Kaufman said.
But changes are being made.
"This is a long-term project," Kaufman said. "It's really a lifelong project, if you get down to it."
One of the things outlined in the HyettPalma action plan was to hire a downtown project manager. On Aug. 20, 2007, the city announced it had hired Beverly Zendt for that position. She is responsible for developing policies and programs to reinvigorate the oldest section of Killeen.
The new position for the city was approved by the Killeen City Council midyear and is in the 2007-08 proposed budget. The budget included a jump from $38,105 to $71,365 for downtown revitalization, including an increase from $18,980 to $46,460 in full-time salaries.
Zendt is familiar with the military and the Texas lifestyle. Her husband is retired from the Army, and this is the second time their family has lived in Central Texas. They lived in Copperas Cove from 1996 until 2000 while her husband was stationed at Fort Hood.
Before working for Killeen, Zendt worked in Belton for nearly two years on downtown revitalization and historic preservation. Her experience also includes an internship with the city of Dover, N.H., back in her graduate school days when she was working on her master's degree in public administration.
HOP on Saturday
On Oct. 6, 2007, the HOP bus system offered Saturday service for the first time in about three years.
"This thing started out when HyettPalma did the downtown study," Robert Ator, director of urban operations for the HOP, said in October shortly before the Saturday routes began. "They recommended running HOP service on Saturday."
He said the HOP stopped offering Saturday routes because of funding cuts while the service was supported by customers.
"Ridership was very good," Ator said in October about the last time Saturday service was offered.
On Nov. 13, Ator reported to the Killeen Transportation Committee that things were so far, so good for Saturday service.
"Our numbers show this is a pretty good thing," Ator said at the meeting in November.
He said the worst Saturday had 105 passengers and the best Saturday had 170 passengers, which is close to the target of 10 passengers per service hour.
The HOP bus is operated by Hill Country Transit District. For more information on the HOP, call (254) 616-6800 or visit www.takethehop.com.
The HyettPalma action agenda also suggests creating a historic district.
"It must be recognized that a large part of downtown's uniqueness is derived from its historic architecture," the document reads. "... Downtown's older buildings must be saved, appropriately rehabbed, and put to new, economically viable uses."
In November, Terri Myers and Kristen Brown, of Preservation Central Inc., of Austin, ranked buildings in what is considered the historic part of downtown Killeen.
They took pictures of and wrote notes about each building between Second and 10th streets and Avenue B and the railroad tracks. They are making an inventory and priority list to present to the city this month.
Among the top priorities, they said in November, is the First United Methodist Church, built in 1912, at the intersection of Gray Street and Avenue B.
"It has extraordinary architectural integrity and represents fine craftsmanship in this particular style," Myers said in November.
Myers and Brown looked at more than 100 sites. Myers said there are two common styles downtown: turn of the century and post-World War II.
Zendt said it will take years to develop a historic district. The first steps are to establish the boundaries of the district, which has been done, and identify what buildings qualify, which Preservation Central is working on. The next step is to pass an ordinance establishing guidelines.
"Which basically says, 'These are our historical structures, and they should be repaired in this fashion,'" Zendt said, adding that simple things throughout the years will bring back the historical significance of buildings, such as taking bricks out of windows and removing vinyl siding.
"A lot of the rehabilitation things are not things that cost a lot of money," Zendt said.
The city also must create a board that will recommend landmarks to be placed on the historic registry.
After all that, an overlay district will have to be established, Zendt said.
"With that come some standards – that's where the rubber hits the road," Zendt said.
An overlay district could give businesses tax abatement opportunities in the designated areas.
"It is for rehabilitation projects of historic buildings," Zendt said.
In January, Zendt, some city staff members and some Downtown Partnership Committee members attended a symposium in Austin to learn more about historic preservation.
Zendt also has been working with the city's code enforcement department to get downtown business owners to comply with current ordinances, suggest ways to make their businesses more attractive and alert them to potential upcoming ordinance changes.
"It's just a talking session," Zendt said about when she visits with downtown business owners. "It has gone reasonably well."
She said the business owners are interested in what she has to say and in improving downtown.
Zendt also is working on an ordinance to regulate the size and style of signs in downtown Killeen. She said signs that make the area seem blighted are scattered throughout the area.
"You don't realize how inappropriately large it (a sign) is until you bring it down to scale," Zendt said. "There are a lot of good signs and a lot of bad signs."
Under the guidelines of the action agenda, safety was ranked high. The HyettPalma report stated that safety was a concern, and a changed perception of crime downtown would increase patronage.
The City Council responded by approving four downtown walking patrol officers at a cost of $141,500.
Killeen Police Chief Dennis Baldwin said there are not four officers currently assigned to downtown full time, but puts staff walking downtown as they are available.
"It takes some time to do that," Baldwin said about full-time walking patrols downtown.
He said it depends on police academy classes.
"I'll staff them sooner if I can do it," Baldwin said.
The walking patrol officers might not always be walking, however. The proposed budget includes Segways for officers to use while patrolling downtown. The scooter-like motorized devices operate on gyroscopes that recognize when someone steps on them. The council approved, in the 2007-08 budget, to buy Segways for the police department.
Baldwin said the police department will study the feasibility of using Segways downtown and will use them elsewhere, such as the mall or airport, if it is not feasible for downtown.
"At this stage, I'm more worried about getting the bodies available," Baldwin said.
Zendt said a local group is doing its part to bring more traffic downtown. Across the railroad tracks by the Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce at 1 Santa Fe Plaza, a farmer's market group is trying to make its biweekly sale more attractive.
Zendt said the group is proposing site enhancements, such as landscaping. The property is leased from BNSF railroad. A representative for the farmer's market was not available for comment.
Zendt said an enhanced farmer's market will bring more traffic downtown.
"It goes with the buy local/organic movement," Zendt said.
A $2.3 million construction package being considered by the City Council to contract for construction of a downtown water line and wastewater line rehabilitation project.
Establishment of a Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone to help finance improvements downtown. A TIRZ takes property tax increments and puts the money in a fund to be used for public improvements in that specified area. The TIRZ money can also be used for facade grants for building owners.
Aggressive graffiti management. The city bought new equipment and hired staff to help property owners to remove graffiti.
Work to be done
Zendt said while she, the committee and other city departments have worked on several items for downtown revitalization, there are several items mentioned in the action agenda that have yet to be started. Some of those things include:
Housing stock. HyettPalma identified 148 potential housing units.
Visual improvements such as landscaping and facades.
Finding venues for events.
Zendt said downtown revitalization is a long-term project. But she knows what the end result should be.
"A good downtown is a vital, thriving commercial district," Zendt said.
Contact Kevin M. Smith at email@example.com or call (254) 501-7550
Read the complete 130-page study and action agenda online at http://www.ci.killeen.tx.us/cikilleen/documents/KilleenDTAA2007.pdf