The new Katy City Hall is only the first of many changes to the city’s downtown area—changes officials say will hark back to the early days of Katy’s history as well as attract new businesses and more visitors to the area.
“If you look back at the 1906 Katy map, the square—it used to be the public plaza, where [City Hall] is now,” said Kayce Reina, Katy’s director of tourism and marketing. “The opportunity to make the original public plaza from 1906 the public plaza again—to get us back to our historical roots— we want to have that again.”
Reina said the city plans to begin construction on the multiphase streets project June 13 following the opening of the new City Hall, set for June 10.
The project will eventually change the traffic flow on several downtown streets into a one-way direction, add more than 100 new parking spaces and create a downtown plaza in the space now occupied by several buildings in the existing City Administration Complex.
“We want to create an environment for families to walk, to shop, to eat that’s more inviting,” Reina said. “It’s also an opportunity for us to do our part to renovate the downtown—to open it up. The changes we make could attract new restaurants and businesses to the area.”
Katy City Administrator Byron Hebert said the downtown plaza project will help tell the story of Katy’s history as well as draw visitors.
“The big thing also is turning the [parks and recreation department] annex building into a new visitor center,” Hebert said.
Hebert said one idea for the plaza is to place historical plaques along a walkway around the iconic water tank.
“People could come out and get the history of Katy. It’s a great story in how unique this place really is,” Hebert said. “With how it was built in the beginning—with the prairie, the farming, the cattle—now, you have the Energy Corridor and the growth picking [up]. It’s a good story, and we want to put it out there for people to hear.”
To clear space to construct the plaza, two of the existing four buildings at the site of the City Administration Complex at 901 Avenue C will be demolished, Reina said.
The City Council chambers and an annex building housing the parks and recreation department will be kept. The council chambers may become a public meeting space, and the annex building is expected to become a visitor center.
However, the plans for the downtown plaza are still in the developmental stage, and a final design has not been chosen. The iconic water tower will be retained, and public restrooms are planned for the plaza.
A committee of business owners and local residents—led by former Mayor Doyle Callender—is meeting on a monthly basis to discuss the project. There is no tentative starting date, cost estimate or funding source for the downtown plaza project, Reina said.
Many of the ideas being considered by the committee would make the area a prime destination for both residents and visitors, Reina said.
“We’re talking about an amphitheater, an arbor area with a lot of shade and seating,” she said. “We’re considering a water fountain and outdoor walking museum. Just a green space where families can hang out.”
Attracting new businesses
Hebert said officials hope the changes to the downtown area will draw new businesses to the area and improve existing ones.
“There has been talk with developers around here,” he said. “They’re looking at [the plans] and going, ‘OK, I see the city is now moving forward and putting some energy in this. Now I’m thinking about redoing my [business] front; now I’m thinking about maybe building a [new] building here.”
The city is not directly involved in the planning for commercial development of the downtown, Hebert said.
“These are the discussions [developers] are having, but they are independent properties,” he said. “Of course, our committee has talked to all of them and visited with them and told them what we want to do, and of course, [developers] are excited about it. There is a lot of interest.”
Many business owners in the downtown area are supportive of the plans to change the street directions and build a plaza.
Betsy Proctor—who co-owns The Limited Edition Art & Antiques with her husband, Harry—said she and other business owners in the downtown area have been involved in the planning of the changes for several years.
“I’m excited [about the changes]. It will be well worth it,” Betsy Proctor said. “It will be really conducive to bringing traffic into town. In the long run, it’ll be good for business.”
One concern many of the business owners have is ensuring street construction is completed before the annual Rice Harvest Festival, which is Oct. 8-9. In addition to street improvements, sidewalks will be renovated and new street lights will be installed.
“[The street construction] is all going to be done in 90 days, hopefully, and it will be done before the Rice Harvest,” Betsy Proctor said.
Connie Morrison, co-owner of Connie’s Antiques & Collectibles, said she would like to see a restaurant come into the downtown area, but she wants to maintain the historic feel of the area.
“If they had a place where No Label [Brewing Co.] could have their beer, but no hard liquor, that’d be so nice,” Morrison said. “I don’t think the [plaza] will bring anyone in, surely not unless there is a restaurant or a bar. You’re going to need to have more businesses, not less.”
Jannet Howell, owner of Junk Street Market, said she is in favor of the plans but hopes the construction is completed quickly.
“I think it would definitely bring more people into the city and help businesses,” Howell said. “I hope they do it quickly so it doesn’t affect our businesses.”
Howell also said having restrooms in the downtown plaza would be beneficial, notably during Katy Market Days.
“People come in here asking to use our restroom. But it’s small and not suitable for a lot of people,” she said.
Lori Martinez, co-owner of Hippie Princess Boutique, said she and her sister moved to the downtown Katy area two years ago to take advantage of the charming feel of the area.
“We’re super excited [about the changes]. We need more people,” Martinez said. “Gosh, restaurants would be great. We leave at 5 p.m. every day. The sun is going down, and it’s beautiful. But, it’s a ghost town. Anything to get people here is good.”
In an effort to set historic building and design guidelines, business owners in the downtown Old Katy area have circulated a petition they plan to submit to Katy City Council, Betsy Proctor said. The petition recommends standards such as height restrictions on buildings, limiting paint colors for business exteriors and prohibiting large LED lights or flashing billboards.
“[The petition] would be asking for some modest requirements,” Betsy Proctor said. “We’re hoping to keep the historic district historic. We’re going to try to get it passed because right now, we have absolutely zero. Not a single ordinance.”
The city has minimal requirements for buildings in the Old Town Katy zoning district. The ordinance for the area does not limit the height of a building and was last amended in 2011 to allow bed-and-breakfast businesses.
Reina said that the city’s planning and zoning committee has been reviewing potential changes to the ordinance and city officials are committed to ensuring the historic feel of the district.
“The city is working on that, protecting the uniqueness of Katy,” Reina said. “We’ve been looking at expanding and adding some building guidelines. We don’t have any now. We want to make sure the spirit and uniqueness of Katy is maintained.”
Article by Jeff Forward via Katy Community Impact News
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