Downtown Kilgore seeking to attract locals

TRAVIS HULL
Staff Writer

Where does your money go? A better question might be “Where would you LIKE your money to go?”

Would you rather see that paycheck aiding a third vacation home in the Rocky Mountains for a corporate bazillionare or to pay for dance lessons for the daughter of your local business?

In this context the answer for most anyone is simple enough. So why are so many shopping at WalMart instead of the local mom and pop? Why are people at the mall instead of our local shops? The Central Business District of Downtown Kilgore understands this concept and in 2006 made a commitment to making the downtown area more accessible for local businesses and pedestrians alike.

Sonia Garza / THE FLARE || The World’s Richest Acre towers over the downtown Kilgore shopping district. City planners are continuing to upgrade the area to retain patrons.
Sonia Garza / THE FLARE || The World’s Richest Acre towers over the downtown Kilgore shopping district. City planners are continuing to upgrade the area to retain patrons.

Before 2006, downtown Kilgore was not in a state of prideful presentation.

“The buildings and infrastructure in downtown were in disrepair and there was not continuity in the businesses,” said Clara Chaffin, Main Street manager.

Sidewalks were cracked and unkempt, sewer mains built in the 1930s were collapsing, handicap access ramps numbered too few and were mostly inadequate and the street lights were unsightly as they were mounted on blistered, wooden poles or rusty iron pipes. In fact, since the ’30s, Kilgore’s downtown area was mostly  untouched.

However, when it was decided that changes needed to occur, the City of Kilgore applied to be a Texas Main Street City in 2006. This is a state-wide program operating through the Texas Historical Commission designed to revitalize and preserve historical downtown areas in Texas.

In the application to become a TMSC, Kilgore stakeholder wrote, “A new Main Street program for Kilgore will unify the community and give impetus for a resurgence in activities to improve, enhance and preserve the downtown commercial core.”

When a sizable population spike occurred in Kilgore during the early 2000s, the city took advantage of the opportunity for growth . Over the past five years Downtown has experienced a net gain of 20 business starts, expansion and relocations, and a net gain of 89 jobs were created for the City of Kilgore.

The Main Street Program facilitated a $4.1 million investment into the Main Street Overlay District, including $2.8 million in streetscape improvements, assisting with 34 private/public joint ventures totaling more than $475,000 and 14 private sector reinvestment projects totaling more than $825,000.

In 2008 the Main Street Advisory Board urged all to “envision downtown as an inviting shopping, dining, meeting and entertainment  destination that offers a sense of history and a window to tomorrow’s economy.”

“Overall downtown is much more alive that it has been in the past. New entrepreneurs are constantly looking for space downtown and parking is often limited – both good problems to have,” Chaffin said.

If you are a native of Kilgore, you have probably wondered what will become of the old and beautiful Crim Theater and Texan Theater. Both are being restored for various intentions (unfortunately not as remodeled theaters) and have plans that are not yet known to the public. The old U.S. Post Office, now called the History and Arts Center, is also being revitalized.

“The overall vision and success of downtown requires investment from the whole community. I would stress the importance of supporting our small businesses downtown because without the support of the community, those businesses may not be around in the future – everyone needs to make a point of eating downtown, shopping downtown and utilizing the services downtown,” Chaffin said.