Run down though it may now be, Cleburne Mayor Scott Cain said he believes downtown Cleburne holds a wealth of potential.
Francis deKock, a project manager with Halff Associates, agrees.
“Cleburne already has what other towns, especially newer towns, envy,” deKock said. “A well structured downtown with a historic feel. Other towns try to recreate that, but you never really can.”
The time to address downtown revitalization is now, Cain said, given predictions of substantial population and business growth in the coming years with the opening of Texas 121, a toll road linking Fort Worth and Cleburne, expected next year.
The city recently hired Halff Associates, employing grant funding from the North Central Texas Council of Governments, to undertake a comprehensive downtown master plan study. Completion of the study should take about a year, deKock said, adding that community input is vital to the success of the project.
The initial stages of that input begin with two downtown community input town halls set for 7-8:30 p.m. Feb. 25 and 8:30-10 a.m. Feb. 26 at the Cleburne Conference Center, 1501 W. Henderson St. Project team leaders will be on hand to visit with attendees 30 minutes before each meeting.
“Cleburne’s future is bright and a big part of our future is our historic downtown,” Cain said. “I am genuinely excited about the opportunity to see our downtown restored and once again full of life, but this will not happen without careful planning and the input of our residents and businesses.
“I urge everyone to attend one of the two community meetings and share your vision of what Cleburne can become. We have the opportunity to reflect on where we have been, what we want to do in the future and how we realize our dreams.”
The hope, deKock said, is to both renovate the historic aspects of downtown but also complement them with harmonious touches of the modern to bring downtown into the 21st century through a “beautiful contrast” while still maintaining Cleburne’s unique character.
“People talk about tourism,” deKock said. “But the goal is to make [downtown] a place residents want to live, play and socialize, a diversity of businesses active 24 hours a day. Get the locals to enjoy if first, then the tourists will hear about it and automatically come.”
Officials hope the study culminates in a plan reflecting community interests while addressing priorities such as housing, land use and transportation options.
Several of the study’s focus areas include:
zx Prioritizing improvements leading to a more pedestrian friendly, attractive and accessible downtown.
zx Linking pedestrian and bicycle paths to existing and future passenger rail.
zx Preserving and expanding Cleburne’s cultural, historical and artistic landmarks.
zx Considering housing options and mixed-use development.
zx Maintaining and adding green space.
“My challenge to those who attend [the upcoming town halls] is to tell us what you want out of downtown,” deKock said. “What would, as a parent, make you and your children feel comfortable and excited to come downtown?”
Tom Burkett, owner of downtown located Action Signs, said he plans to attend both meetings. Burkett said he hopes the study results lead to concrete action as opposed to just being filed away and forgotten.
“I would love to see downtown cleaned up and revitalized,” Burkett said. “But the main thing I see is that we need a good catalyst, something to bring people to downtown.”
Burkett said he’s also concerned that these and other city studies and projects in the works, such as a committee to review city sign ordinances, may prove too restrictive and costly, especially for small business owners.
Fred Garza, owner of Garza’s Famous Chigo Hot Dogs and several downtown buildings, said he plans to attend one or both of the town halls as well, but added that he’s not hopeful.
“A lot of this sounds like la la plans because the city has no money to do a lot of these things,” Garza said. “They need to start with some basic things like making the sidewalks pedestrian friendly where people don’t trip and get hurt.”
Garza chided city leaders for having, but not advertising, facade grants available to help downtown owners spruce up their buildings.
“I wondered when I came here why everything was boarded up,” Garza said. “The city changes the rules too much, doesn’t apply them the same, and I’m frustrated and disappointed by the way decisions are made here.”
So much so that Garza said he plans to sell his buildings soon and move elsewhere.
“I’ve spent about $700,000 on my buildings and planned to do more,” Garza said. “But, when you invest money, it only makes sense that you want a return. When you can’t do that nobody benefits. It’s sad cause I felt like I was making a difference to downtown Cleburne. But it is what it is.”