Once again, the issue of revitalizing the Killeen’s Rancier Avenue corridor is on the table.
And once again, the city’s lawmakers have shown enthusiasm for a proposed upgrade to the northside thoroughfare.
Council members last week viewed a computer-animated presentation on the proposed changes, which would include lowering advertising signs to a smaller scale, burying power lines and beautifying business fronts, as well as repairing roads and sidewalks and adding foliage.
Cost of the project — which would extend from Fort Hood Street to Valley Road — wasn’t given, but interim City Manager Dennis Baldwin said he believed funding could be provided through hotel-motel tax money or through existing Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone funds.
A TIRZ takes the difference from one year’s tax to the next and puts it in a fund to be used for public improvements within that district. It can be used to fund projects such as water and sewer lines, streets and sidewalks, trails and parks, storm drain ways, facade improvements and maintaining historical markers.
The TIRZ the city created in 2009 includes most of downtown Killeen from Veterans Memorial Boulevard to Rancier Avenue, and most of Killeen on the eastern side of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.
Certainly, it’s in the city’s interest to improve the aesthetics along Rancier, especially the area closest to Fort Hood’s eastern gate, where the proposed project is focused. A visually pleasing area will reflect better on the military post, make the area more attractive to customers and potentially draw more businesses.
Still, it must be noted that facelifts to Rancier have been tried before, with little success.
Nearly 10 years ago, the council passed an ordinance regulating signage along Rancier, but the statute didn’t require signs to be replaced until they fell into disrepair. Consequently, the area doesn’t look much different today than it did when the ordinance was enacted.
However, the new proposal offers a vision of a dramatically different West Rancier Avenue. The computer animation removes several current buildings in its projected vision of the area.
The question is, how does the city get to that point?
Many buildings in the area are very close to the road and have little parking. In order to provide better parking and pedestrian access, some buildings would have to be purchased and removed, but who decides the winners and losers?
Councilman Richard “Dick” Young, who generally favors the Rancier renovation, said the city must encourage and reward property owners for making changes. Forcing business owners who are on the edge of profitability to make expensive changes to the property would be unfair, he said.
Young also envisions a committee composed of council members, business owners and residents who would help to designate where TIRZ funds would be spent in revitalizing the area.
Young noted that the city makes more money off the northern portion of town than other areas, given the proportion of city expenditures to tax revenue.
Given that reality, it’s all the more important that the city reinvest in the area.
With that in mind, city officials are to commended for targeting urban blight with their Clean ’17 code enforcement initiative — starting with a zone that includes the downtown portion of Rancier.
But more must be done to help Rancier and north-central Killeen than just improving the aesthetics. The council must make it a priority to address the area’s deteriorating roads and outdated water lines as well.
City officials must develop a long-term plan to systematically repair and replace the city’s aging infrastructure — which constitutes a potential threat to public health and safety. That means prioritizing areas by need, setting a schedule and dedicating funding for the work to be done.
The council’s enthusiasm for improving the look of Rancier is commendable.
Members should demonstrate similar support for improving the lives of the area’s residents.