Objective: Pursue resources, tools, programs, and catalytic investments to strengthen Downtown as an economic development and quality of life asset for all of Wichita Falls.
Talented individuals – and the companies that wish to hire them – frequently prefer to be located within or near areas that are mixed-use, amenity-rich, and are walkable and accessible. Locally, Downtown Wichita Falls is best suited to provide this type of environment. Accordingly, a thriving Downtown is important to the economic prospects of the entire Wichita Falls community. Input participants noted that the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic “set us back on our heels” as businesses struggled, events were canceled, and investments were put on hold. But stakeholders report that Downtown has in recent months begun to recapture some of its pre-pandemic momentum. These individuals said the time is right to help the district achieve a new level of success.
This Key Initiative focuses specifically on the tools, programs, and investments needed to advance development in Downtown. The recommendations are designed to work with Goal 3 of the City’s 2021 Strategic Plan – in some cases amplifying existing tactics that support economic development and in other cases adding new priorities that emerged from stakeholder input.
Success in this Key Initiative will require a collaborative approach. While public sector resources and economic development incentives can be used to catalyze growth, attracting additional private investment is essential to success. Some efforts must be led primarily by the private sector. For instance, creating a Public Improvement District (PID) can only be accomplished with the express approval of a sufficient number of property owners in the area. Partners in Wichita Falls should also clearly communicate that Downtown is not funded to the exclusion of other neighborhoods and that public-sector investments are vital to the community’s overall success and prosperity. Additionally, downtown stakeholders and other interested parties must also work together to clearly define organizational roles for downtown development, events, and marketing/promotion to ensure efficient and effective utilization of resources.
- Public Improvement District No. 1 (Waco, TX)
- Santa Fe Plaza (Temple, TX)
- Storefront Activation Program (Germantown, Philadelphia, PA)
1. Leverage economic development capacity to pursue new residential and commercial development
- Continue to identify and work with property owners, potential investors, developers, and other private-sector partners to promote residential and commercial development and redevelopment
- When necessary and appropriate, leverage Type 4A and 4B funds and other potential incentives to incentivize new residential and commercial development and redevelopment
2. Establish a Public Improvement District (PID) to fund needed improvements
- Work with downtown property owners and businesses to establish a Public Improvement District (PID) to fund aesthetic enhancements, public safety, wayfinding upgrades, promotion, etc.
- Research successful downtown PIDs in other Texas communities to establish the benefits of the model; arrange an inter-city visit to allow Downtown stakeholders to see these benefits firsthand
3. Convene an inclusive process to create a vision for a “focal point” or “signature gathering place”
- Complement the City of Wichita Falls’ Downtown Master Plan with a strategic visioning process aimed at identifying options for a “focal point” or “signature gathering place” for Downtown
- Retain an experienced city planning or landscape architecture firm to facilitate an inclusive process that engages key downtown stakeholders and residents from throughout Wichita Falls
- Evaluate whether the planning process will necessitate a new market study or if existing knowledge is sufficient to inform reasonable assumptions about market demand for private-sector uses
- The desired outcome of the process will be a vision that includes a conceptual plan for a focal point or gathering place and identifies any public investments needed to catalyze private investment
4. Pursue strategies to activate Downtown storefronts
- Leverage the community-wide arts revitalization program (see Key Initiative #10) and knowledge from the City’s Vacant Structure Registry to activate retail storefronts in Downtown
- Work with property owners to identify a large storefront that could be subdivided into “micro-retail” spaces that would help incubate new retail businesses that are not yet ready to take on a full lease
5. Identify options to fund needed upgrades to streetscapes and public infrastructure
- Continue to support the City of Wichita Falls in the implementation of the Downtown Master Plan
- Identify state and federal resources that could resource needed downtown street improvements; work with the City and other partners to identify future options to generate local revenue to fund improvements