Main Street Texarkana hosts downtown renewal consultants

Randy Wilson, a consultant who works with Main Street organizations, helps Main Street Texarkana members brainstorm plans for downtown development Tuesday at the Municipal Auditorium in Texarkana, Arkansas. (Staff photo by Junius Stone)

TEXARKANA, Ark. -- Main Street Texarkana hosted representatives of state-level Main Street organizations for a meeting of the minds Tuesday at the downtown Municipal Auditorium.

Main Street Arkansas consultant Randy Wilson assisted the representatives in drawing up plans for the development of downtowns.

"A big part of developing your downtown is artistic representation," Wilson said, touching on various ideas for bringing downtown back to life.

"Public art plays a big part, helping to add life to downtown life. Also, flowers and plants. Something about the presence of flora also brings life to the scene. And shade sails. If you don't have lots of trees downtown, this can help shade things as pedestrians go about your downtown, especially during warm weather."

Wilson described those methods as "easy." When moving onto "medium" level techniques, he touched on incentives, various ways to deploy resources to encourage downtown businesses to beautify their facades.

"There are various ways you can approach this," he said. "You can help fund various full facade rebuilds. Or, if you have limited funds, you can just do small touch ups and spread your funding further. The idea of such programs, infusions of capital, is to actually encourage business owners to take further measures themselves, once they have done that particular move to beautify their locations."

Wilson noted that downtown Texarkana has several seriously dilapidated buildings and absentee landlords complicate the problem. Rebuilding is best, he said, but if tearing down and space-creating is inevitable, creativity is needed in setting up "pocket parks."

"Use some innovation, do something different with them," he said.

Wilson emphasized community involvement and tapping into the skill sets and inclinations available in the community.

"Whatever task you are setting out, encourage the involvement of those who have talent and inclination in making it happen," he said.

He noted the restoration of the Municipal Auditorium is just the kind of project needed for Main Street organizations to revitalize downtown.

Ina McDowell, executive director of Main Street Texarkana, said the group had been aiming for such a meeting for a while and Tuesday's would help them form long-term plans.

"We will do more of these meetings as needed," she said. "This will help us set up our organizational work plan for the next two to three years."