City Manager Mark Rohr outlined the city’s new downtown redevelopment plan at the Nov. 21 commissioner meeting.
Rohr said that the plan stems from the Mobilize Marshall city meeting on June 1 of this year, where community members gathered to share what they hope to see changed in the city.
From the community’s ideas the city came up with a list of improvements to be made, the next step of which will be the downtown revitalization plan.
Rohr has been involved in four downtown redevelopment plans in his career, and said that from this experience he found that there are four main aspects to a plan including building enhancements, streetscaping improvements, parking provisions and events and activities.
“The quality, quantity and historic value of Marshall’s downtown buildings far exceeds those in any of those other cities, at the point in time the studies were initiated.” Rohr said. “I say this to indicate that I believe we have a lot to work with at this stage of our efforts. The striking architecture and historic quality of the downtown buildings leaves us a strong foundation on which to build.”
The new plan outlines how these aspects will be completed in the first phase of redevelopment, focusing on 100 block of Houston Street.
“Marshall is blessed with an abundance of beautiful old structures in its core that could benefit greatly from an intensive redevelopment effort that leverages the history and beauty that our city has to offer,” Rohr said in the plan.
Phase one of the plan will cost around $2 million, with Rohr stating that funding will come from a number of sources which will likely include the city incur debt to fund the changes.
“We are in a good place debt wise and we know we are able to incur debt for this project that we will be able to pay back in a timely manor,” Rohr said.
The biggest part of the new downtown plan will be the creation of a green space and outdoor theater area on the east side of Whetstone Square.
The city plans to add a pavement fountain as an interactive water feature for children and their families to enjoy.
On the northernmost section of the square a canopied stage would be added to serve as an outdoor theater venue.
Additionally, ample outdoor seating is planned for the southern portion of the square to enable a sight line to the stage.
The reuse of this space would take away parking spots in front of the court house and reroute traffic patterns on Houston.
Rohr said that the loss of parking spaces will be more than covered with the additional parking incorporated in the downtown plan.
Public works director Eric Powell also said that based on current traffic patterns the layout change will increase safety for pedestrian traffic and cut down on confusion for drivers in the area.
Other aspects of Phase 1 include expanding sidewalks 10 additional feet. Rohr said that the surface will be paved with bricks that match the color of the historic downtown buildings to keep a consistent look.
The additional sidewalk space will add outdoor seating that will allow community members to see concerts on the new outdoor stage from outside of any local restaurants or other vendors.
Streetlights will be installed to match the existing lights and specially-chosen street trees, supported by irrigation, will be added to the sidewalks.
Rohr also said that local artists will have the ability to have their artwork displayed on the street corners.
Along with these changes the city plans to offer a the utilization of Community Development Block Grant funding local businesses on a 50-50 basis, for façade improvements consistent with approved design review standards.
The plan also includes the addition of Lady Bird Garden, a separate project being developed by Christina and Richard Anderson and their partners.
The project has been in the works for a number of years according to Christina Anderson, who on behalf of the Cargill-Anderson partnership, initiated the idea of building a The Lady Bird Garden in the green space on the west side of The Marshall Grand to honor Harrison County native and First Lady of the United States, Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson.
Anderson was even able to contact Mrs. Johnson’s before her death in July 2007, and received consent to name the Garden on this land west of The Marshall Grand in her honor.
She said that this portion of the project will not be funded or organized by the city, but will instead coincide with the city’s development timeline.
“As I shared at the time that we announced the concept of the garden, there are only a little more than 40 counties throughout the United States who have a First Lady born in their county and Harrison County is blessed to be one and to have such a beloved First Lady as Lady Bird.” Anderson said, “We thought and continue to think that this space in the heart of downtown Marshall is a fitting place to build a beautiful garden in her honor.”
A detailed outline of the plan will be available online soon, according to Rohr, and will be found at www.marshalltexas.net/agenda/1335/special-called-city-commission-meeting-11212019.