Two downtown investments — one public, one private — are aligning this spring to boost the prospect of a genuine entertainment district in Killeen.
Over the past two years, Chiun Chi and Ralph Deal have made major interior and exterior renovations to their two downtown businesses, Tank’s Pub and the new Asian-themed wine bar and lounge, Tyku, planned to open soon next door.
“It’s going to be one of the few, if any venues, in Killeen with an outdoor courtyard upstairs and downstairs with two VIP sections,” Deal said of the new wine bar.
“The way we have it structurally designed, customers will be able to look down on the live music and the rest of the courtyard.”
As renovations for the businesses near completion, the grand opening of Tyku awaits another project, the city’s $5.8 million downtown streetscaping project, which will bring new streets, decorative sidewalks, lighting and foliage to downtown Killeen.
“We work very closely with (the city) talking almost every day,” Chi said. “Parking is going to be a huge factor. We’re not going to open up the front door when the streets are still muddy and dirty.”
The return of pavement to Avenue D, which is currently ground to dirt, could come as soon as spring, said George Lueck, Killeen’s transportation director.
The entire project, which includes a 10-foot-wide concrete path to connect the Andy K. Wells Hike and Bike Trail to downtown, is expected to be finished by the end of 2013.
Although the streetscaping construction has been an obstacle for most downtown businesses since work began in August, the long-term benefits of the downtown reimaging are expected to boost business.
“Short term it doesn’t look pretty, but because we are going to be in business for a long term, it’s going to help out,” Chi said.
“It’s a good improvement for the city to clean up the image a little bit.”
Chi and Deal hope their venture will bring the rise of a new downtown Killeen entertainment district, akin to Sixth Street in Austin.
The business partners plan to bring food trucks and live bands from Austin and wines from all over the world.
“It is going to be a different venue than what people are used to in Killeen,” Chi said. “And this is not the end of our business plan.”
On Dec. 13, during a joint meeting of the Killeen City Council and the Planning and Zoning Commission, public officials discussed the creation of new entertainment zoning district for downtown Killeen.
The Comprehensive Plan — a long-term planning document adopted by the city in 2010 — calls for four new downtown districts that will provide for more variety in land use, such as apartments placed on top of businesses.
“The plan calls for adopting zoning that would try to get the uses that you are looking for,” said Jill Hall, senior planner for the city.
“Live, work and play. You want to be able to do all three in the same place. That is the goal.”
The Historic Overlay District, which is already in place in downtown Killeen, allows for several business opportunities unique to the city.
Businesses in the district are allowed to serve alcohol within 300 feet of a church or school — a provision not allowed elsewhere in the city.
The district also gives the council the option to grant conditional uses on properties that might benefit from the special zoning.
The city has a long running campaign to bring businesses into the many vacant buildings downtown, incentives that many downtown property owners, including Chi and Deal, have taken full advantage of.
In October, the city hired a new downtown revitalization project manager, Charlotte Humpherys, to spearhead the downtown revitalization, expected to pick up after the streetscaping project is finished.
“Downtown Killeen is full of opportunities and the city is ready to take the necessary steps to ensure success in this effort,” Humpherys said.
Humpherys’ job is to find new owners for the many vacant properties and to get the owners to take advantage of the two lucrative grant programs the city offers for building improvements in downtown.
The Historic District Sign Grant Program pays for half of the costs of sign rehabilitation in downtown and the Historic Downtown Facade Improvement Grant Program pays 80 percent of the cost, up to $10,000, to improve a downtown facade.
Grants are available for all buildings in the downtown historic district, which stretches over eight blocks from Santa Fe Plaza to Avenue B between Fourth and Eighth streets.
When Chi and Deal planned improvements to their buildings, the city paid $20,000, the maximum allowance from the city.
The money paid for 80 percent of the cost of a new flat roof awning and double French doors along Avenue D, and new paint and roof for the whole building.
Chi said without the improvements paid for through the grants, the future of Tyku would be much more uncertain.
“Those things would be on a wish list for us,” Chi said. “All that ties into a cost, and when you are starting a business you need as much working capital as you can get.”