EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is the final story in a five-part series examining the long-range plans for the two Texarkanas. Today's story focuses on downtown Texarkana's future. Previous stories examined planning approaches for the two cities, transportation, water plans/needs and the area's economic outlook.
Continuing progress is the current tale of downtown Texarkana.
The city was formerly a wild-and-woolly rail town with a reputation for being colorful. But more recently the city experienced what appeared to be a long, slow decline and dormancy as the business center of gravity seemed to move away from its historical heart. Today, however, downtown advocates seem to believe that art, history and yes, businesses are beginning to rediscover Texarkana's downtown roots.
"Twenty years from now, downtown is going to look completely different from what it does now, quite honestly," said Ina McDowell, executive director of Main Street Texarkana, the civic organization that centers itself on preserving and reviving Texarkana's storied downtown.
"Twenty years from now, there will be more people, more green space, greater vivaciousness," she said. From businesses of various types purposely returning or starting anew downtown, to new residential living space opening up, all of that is the very beginning to the downtown Renaissance, McDowell believes.
"Look at it now, it appears sleepy, if not dormant," she said. "That may be the way it looks to some, but that's not true. Or certainly won't be 20 years from now. It will be alive, in a way it hasn't been for a while."
Very recently, a long sought-after project finally got off the starting block. Downtown's Hotel Grim, one of the most iconic historic properties, finally will be given new life. And this will be a key element in the coming downtown reawakening.
"Our downtown district was recently designated as an entertainment district," said Dr. Kenny Haskin, city manager of Texarkana, Arkansas. "We look forward to the opportunities that will afford our businesses and citizens, both present and future. In 10 years, we expect this to be a thriving part of the city, filled with shops, restaurants and outside areas that attract and serve our citizens and visitors. Several loft apartments are already housing tenants, and several other buildings are being renovated for this purpose. People and organizations are holding activities in this area and the nightlife is already exciting."
With restaurants alone, the downtown area is already being regarded as one of the prime dining centers of the city. From long-established eateries like TLC Burgers & Fries to newer places like Pecan Point Gastropub Brewery, the variety is impressive. From familiar standbys like Joe's Pizza to newer places like Verona's, Zapata's and Johnny B's, as well as bars and entertainment places like Hopkins Icehouse and Broadway, Texarkana has something for everyone.
And for the culturally minded, the legendary Perot Theatre and Discovery Place as well as Silvermoon, those seeking local entertainment and enlightenment are available.
Dr. Beverly Rowe, a local historian, is involved with the local museum scene. She owns and operates the Lindsey Railroad Museum, dedicated to Texarkana's rail history. The attraction gives an interactive look at Texarkana's downtown heritage and puts on exhibits and seminars intended to educate and entertain.
Rowe is optimiatic about the progress occurring downtown.
"The Grim is falling into place, and we have the Osborne Project at Regions Bank. With those and other projects going, that will contribute to Texarkana being a fully functional historical, cultural and business section of the town," she said. "At that point, it won't be just a place people live. It will be a tourist destination."
Rowe sees this tourist aspect to Texarkana already taking shape.
"People from out of town have come to visit my museum," she said. "They've come from as far away as California. And we are just getting started. The key is, our locals need to get behind and support our local artistic, cultural and business concerns. Shop local, entertain local, enjoy local. Our neighbors, our fellow parishioners, if our downtown succeeds, we will all benefit.
"Just my museums alone, I hear people say, 'I was there two years ago.' There's new stuff there every weekend. I travel and see the cultural features of other towns. There's nice stuff elsewhere, but our stuff is better. Come and see our stuff. Twenty years from now? More and better stuff to come."