City develops plan to create a more vibrant downtown Seguin
20 Jul 2023
Downtown, City of Seguin
Seguin, TX, USA / Seguin Today
(Seguin) — The city of Seguin not only is planning for the overall future of the city, but it’s also coming up with ways to completely transform the downtown historic district. In addition to the comprehensive plan that was approved by the city council on Tuesday, the city is also wrapping up a master plan for the downtown area. Much like the larger comprehensive plan, the downtown master plan has been a year and a half in the making. The city worked with the firm Freese and Nichols to develop both plans.
Chance Sparks, a project manager at Freese and Nichols, presented a draft of the downtown master plan during Tuesday’s meeting. Sparks says based on the community input, there was a clear vision developed for downtown Seguin.
“What you see within the vision is what you’ve probably been hearing for a while. (People) want this to be an exciting and working place for locals and visitors. You’ve heard me say it before — if the locals like (your downtown), your visitors will love it,” said Sparks.
That vision statement was used to help create some of the goals that were included in the downtown plan. Sparks says the goals all are designed to help make downtown Seguin a destination location for both local residents and guests.
“We set several goals with this — becoming a regional destination, working the relationship between local communities and downtown, making sure it’s a place where everybody feels like they’re supposed to be there and that they belong, telling the story (of downtown), getting a variety of businesses, and of course the physical improvements aspect (or) the pretty part of this,” said Sparks.
Sparks says they identified several projects that should be prioritized in downtown Seguin. Enhancing Central Park is at the top of the list. He says they want to keep all those things that people love about Central Park, while also making it a more usable and inviting space for the community.
“The perspective on this has changed throughout this process. I want to emphasize this is actually something that’s very unique about your downtown. You have had the best collections of WPA era architecture in Texas and to my knowledge, you all are the proud owners of the only surviving (WPA) fountain. And so, what we try to emphasize with this is celebrate those different pieces that are great, but add to them. We initially kind of talked about additional water features (in Central Park). We’re saying that needs to go somewhere in your downtown. It’s 105 (degrees) today. It needs to go somewhere. We also do things like public seating and lots of things that can be done incrementally. The key to this also, is when you decide to take on this project — take on an additional public engagement process with it. That is probably the heart and soul of your city, and that means a few extra conversations are worth the effort,” said Sparks.
One of the other priorities calls for a public restroom in the downtown area, and also converting Donegan Street into a flexible space that could be used in a variety of ways.
“It’s kind of naturally set up for festivals and for different types of configurations. It’s kind of already used that way, and it is your primary way to the (Memorial) Rose Garden and into the trail system there (in Walnut Springs Park). So, we see it as a great opportunity, with lots of art opportunities there, and lighting and things like that. It could be a festival configuration, complete with dancing because there is a dance studio (nearby). It’s expected, right? With all the lighting and things like that to go with it, we’re trying to convey that this is what the type of energy you should have in your downtown,” said Sparks.
Sparks says one of the things the city needs to create for its downtown is gateways and way finding signage that helps people recognize that they are driving or walking into a special place in Seguin.
“There’s multiple approaches to this and these involve private sector investments and making sure that the buildings can clearly be (seen by the public, so they) can know what’s happening. But also support from the public sector side of establishing — ‘you are here’ and this is a different space. It means not just an aesthetic aspect, but it’s communicating to drivers — hey, slow down, you are arriving somewhere. This is not a thing you drive through, it’s a thing you drive to,” said Sparks.
Another unique item, in the downtown master plan, calls for the city to create sub-districts within the downtown historic district. Sparks says there are some opportunities there to further highlight some existing areas in downtown Seguin.
“This is something that we can’t do in every downtown. But yours fits it really well, because you do have these assets. You have these historic theaters that are these kind of great opportunities for action. You have what we labeled as the Los Nogales District. This is the…most historic piece in the south portion. Your Rose District, going towards the parks and the green spaces and things like that — and kind of the Central Austin Street District, which is kind of the main commercial center and where most of the activity is now,” said Sparks.
Sparks says the city has to look at how cars and pedestrians utilize the downtown. He says much of the downtown street layout caters to vehicular traffic. He says there are some areas, particularly Court and Austin streets, that present a big challenge for pedestrians. He says the city needs to look at that, and also consider making changes to its one-way streets downtown. He says he routinely drove the wrong way on River Street, and the city may want to revisit the need for all its one-way streets. He also says there are parts of the downtown that are pretty dark at night, and that’s something that will also need to be addressed.
“We did a lighting audit as part of this. This is where we actually walked every aspect of your downtown to see where those gaps existed and what was needed. Cities instinctively say; ‘hey, let’s go put in more streetlights.’ We say yes, that’s appropriate in some cases, but also think about how those buildings can participate. A really effective and well-lit storefront, with a good display, can be more effective than a streetlight could ever hope to be. So, I think you might have to create programs that would encourage that. It has the added benefit of creating awareness of the businesses too,” said Sparks.
Seguin Mayor Donna Dodgen says this downtown master plan is a perfect complement to the overall comprehensive plan that was also adopted by the city. She says both plans will help to lead to a bright future for the city of Seguin.
“So, I think it’s just so exciting that we’re doing this along with the…downtown plan, which it really is an exclamation point to that comprehensive master plan. But we need these to help us know (where we are going), and to create how we want to go and flow,” said Dodgen.
The council on Tuesday unanimously approved the downtown master plan on first reading. A second and final reading will be required before the plan is officially adopted.