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AUSTIN EDITION - Vision unfolds

Groups develop wish lists for revival of downtown

By Roxana Orellana

rorellana@postbulletin.com

Community members participating in the downtown revitalization "Take Part" project are half way to finding a shared vision for Austin.

"Downtown is a place that needs to be looked at and treated with excitement," urban consultant H. Roger Smith said Thursday while sharing examples of what other cities have done with their downtowns.

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About 50 people met with urban consultants to review possibilities, alternatives and priorities during the second workshop in the planning process. Divided into groups, the participants focused on six topics, including types of new businesses that should be added to downtown, a cultural area, and how to connect the Spam Museum to the downtown area.

Each group created a wish list:

For arts and culture, a more upscale restaurant and a center for music and art that would match the image of the Paramount Theater.

For new businesses, a bakery, restaurants, an ice-cream shop, another grocery store and moving the Welcome Center.

For downtown activities, farmer markets, youth shows and other family activities.

Other suggestions included improving building appearances with a central theme; improving building and street signs and adding sculptures, banners and flags; connecting buildings on their first and second floors so customers wouldn't have to go outside; connecting the Spam Museum to the downtown; and filling the Mill Pond gap, adding points of interest.

As for the courthouse block, participants said they wanted to see it stay downtown or keep civil services in the area. Landscaping and parking would be needed. The county is considering building a new justice center, and moving the courthouse from downtown is a possibility.

Smith and Jack Leaman, another urban developer, will use the information to put together a "trial plan." "This community is so exciting to work with because of the large involvement," Smith said after the meeting. "I am a true believer of the take part process because it involves the ideas of the citizens in the final project."

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In three months, Austin residents will look at options for rejuvenating downtown.

"Make downtown a place that has an identity and people go there because it is a place that is exciting and different all the time," Smith said.

The last meeting will be in April at the Paramount Theatre.

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