Being on the job with the City of Wichita Falls for only 4 months. Dana Schoening who was recently hired to fill the position of Director of Community Development, was very kind to accept an invitation from the North Texas Home Builders Association to speak at the February 2nd general membership meeting.
Dana told the audience you can determine a community when you start looking for a house. He said, Wichita Falls is clean community with a high urban standard of development.
The position Dana filled as Director of Community Development had not been filled since 2011. He noted that was when NTHBA member Dave Clark retired from the position. The City has 2 key objectives for filling the position. One is to build Wichita Falls from the inside out which paves the way for number two, bring people to Wichita Falls.
Wichita Falls is fortunate to have a great seasoned staff which assembles Dana with a good workable team.
Dana mentioned the things that have been happening lately. Residential building is on the uptick from the last 10 years with an average of 95 new properties. The evaluations of properties is increasing significantly. On the commercial side, however, it has dropped from an average of 94 in 2008 to 54 in 2017. It is taking a long time for the commercial building to come back but 3 out of the last 5 years the commercial evaluations have increased.
Dana said it’s time to move things forward. Wichita Falls has been flat for the past 57 years. Population in 1960 was 101,724 while we remain at 104,704 in 2017. He said it’s time to commit and grow. The stage is being set with the Downtown Steering Committee, the Wichita Falls Economic Development Commission, Downtown Wichita Falls and the Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce working together.
Here are just a few ways the city intends to achieve these goals:
- The intent is to bring back listening sessions in March to bring regular stake holders together to see how the city can improve
- Continuous Process Improvement
- Downtown Development
- Promote Growth Opportunities:
- Changing the process of how contractors work with the city regarding such items as:
Conditional use permits, Site Plan revisions, building permits
Everyone seems to be in agreement that Downtown is the heartbeat of the community. It says a lot about the community so it is crucial to create a vibrant downtown district. The City Council has authorized an oversight committee for this purpose. Freese & Nichols have been contracted with and have proposed vision 20/20 which consist of 3 primary products:
Greater downtown is considered 6th through 8th streets. Scott Street is the gateway to the greater downtown area and the greater downtown area is broken into 4 different zoning districts. Northwest Convention District, Westside Institutional District, Central Office Retail/Entertainment District and Depot Square Historic District.
The city will continue utilizing funds to help offset cost to refurbish buildings downtown for bringing them up to code with such items as sprinklers. The mindset is the business will come and go but the buildings will remain.
The streetscapes will consist of areas with landscaping, benches, lighting as well as narrowing the streets and widening sidewalks. Having these types of streetscapes allow people to see they are entering somewhere special. People will want to walk around and spend their day leisurely in this area. The area will provides excitement and activity. It will have more of a family atmosphere with more event taking place.
Mr. Schoening also mentioned like most everything it will have a cost with it and you always have to weigh the odds. Dana’s position is to advocate for the transformation of downtown to create growth.
Another objective is to help clean up the town by going into neighborhoods and instilling neighborhood pride. Ways to do this are understanding needs and opportunities and seeking partnerships with organizations and volunteers to facilitate improvements by neighborly influence, using leaders in the neighborhood to take lead by example, educating citizens of what resources the city has to offer and through proper code enforcement and getting violation numbers down.
In conclusion, Dana mentioned, other areas have been successful in revitalizing their towns by starting with their downtown areas and making it the hub of their towns which in turn creates growth and prosperity with so many different organizations working in the same direction to gain growth, Wichita Falls has and is seeing many major projects come to fruition. The WFISD CEC Center, the Lake Wichita Falls Revitalization Committee beginning work on Lake Wichita, SAFB main gate project and the many, many new businesses and restoration that has already taken place downtown to name a few. Wichita Falls is on the right track to growing Wichita Falls.