Bringing Back Main Street Roundtables and Workshops

The Bringing Back Main Street initiative offers local communities a place to share best practices and engage in a regional dialogue about revitalizing and supporting vibrant downtown spaces. Each quarter, community leaders gather for a roundtable on topics ranging from small business support to sidewalk infrastructure.

Revitalization Roundtables and Summits

Date and Time

Tuesday, October 26, 2021
Time: 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Location

Online

Participants will consider recent urban-to-rural migration trends during the COVID-19 pandemic and opportunities for rural places to maximize their open spaces and outdoor recreation amenities, including eco-tourism, trail-oriented development, and large-scale conservation.

Dr. Charles Gilliland, Research Economist at the Texas Real Estate Research Center, will discuss the recent uptick in small property rural land sales and urban-to-rural migration trends in Texas.

Plante, Nature Tourism Coordinator at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, will suggest how rural and small towns in Texas can cultivate their nature tourism.

Liz Thorstensen, Vice President of Trail Development at the Rails to Trails Conservancy, will share how rural towns have built and leveraged trails to bring people downtown.

We will also highlight case studies from around the H-GAC region.

Past Roundtables and Summits

This roundtable explored how local food fuels the economy. Speakers from the City of Tomball, Tomball Farmers Market, and Food and Vine Time Productions discussed how farmers markets, food truck parks, and other food-focused events can bring communities together and generate economic development opportunities.

This round table topic was Designing Accessible Downtowns and included guidance and examples of how small towns and downtown organizations can integrate accessibility considerations into their work. To recognize Fair Housing Month in April, speakers also discussed fair housing and reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities.

Attendees learned about the Texas Department of Agriculture's Community Development Block Grant program for non-entitlement communities. The City of Hunstville and City of Eagle Lake shared success stories. 

H-GAC's second annual Rural and Small Town Downtown Revitalization Summit focused on Doing Business During COVID-19.

Downtowns thrive on engaged visitors, resilient businesses, and strategic planning for growth. This remains true during COVID-19, but how we get there may look a little different. There are many solutions to every challenge, but no magic formula, especially during a pandemic. However, experts and our neighbors have some ideas.

Participants looked at ways to reinvigorate downtowns during COVID-19 by attracting visitors, maintaining local businesses, and planning for new growth.

Participants learned about Remaining Economically Competitive.

Jillian Donatto, H-GAC Senior Planner, offered an overview of Wharton County and local economic development indicators, high level insights on impacts of recent economic shocks, and implications for the future of talent-led economic development. Courtney Sladek, El Campo City Manager, provided an economic snapshot of the City of El Campo, including job growth, key industries, economic development benchmarking, and how the city is poising itself for future growth.

Chad Odom, Wharton Economic Development Corporation Executive Director, discussed workforce housing as part of the business attraction, retention, and expansion model, including Wharton ISD housing initiatives. Todd Lang, International Economic Development Council Senior Economic Development Associate, explained how communities can access free technical assistance from the U.S. Economic Development Administration via the International Economic Development Council.

Agenda and Presentations

Participants learned How Small Cities Are Raising Development Standards for Future Growth. Theo Melancon, Dayton City Manager, discussed how leaders and residents can embrace change to ensure growth is controlled and meets the needs of the community. Jim Webb, Chief Executive Officer at The Goodman Corporation, discussed mobility planning and offered information on traditional and innovative funding sources. Jody Czajkoski, Conroe City Councilman, discussed inevitable growth and development codes the City of Conroe is implementing to prepare for it.

Presentations were followed by a robust discussion and questions from attendees.

At this half-day summit, participants learned from experts and heard real-world examples focusing on best practices supporting revitalization in small and rural downtowns.

Brett Banfield, President of Friends of Downtown Friendswood Association, shared his knowledge regarding some of the reasons why downtown beautification is important to economic development and how Friendswood is accomplishing its revitalization goals. Ron Cox, Past President of the Friendswood Downtown Economic Development Corporation, shared his knowledge on the history, regulations, and planning underway for Friendswood's Economic Development activities. Isaac Perez, Senior Business Developer for the Houston-Galveston Area Local Development Corporation, share his knowledge on some funding opportunities, such as loans and grants programs.

The event was hosted by the City of Friendswood, and breakfast was generously sponsored by CobbFendley & Associates.

Jason Vandever, Energy Code Program Manager at SPEER, shared his knowledge on meeting building codes and standards when renovating old or historic buildings in your downtown. Jason’s presentation was followed by a tour of two renovated buildings in downtown Angleton led by Martha Eighme, City of Angleton’s Economic Development and Tourism Director.

Dr. Sherry McKibben, Director of Neighborhood Resources at the City of Huntsville, shared her knowledge on implementing a wayfinding and signage program and discussed the importance of coordination between state and local agencies. Debbie Charbonneau, Main Street Coordinator at the City of Huntsville, discussed the downtown branding strategies used by their community and how they have found success. She also shared event planning and community engagement advice.

Jaimie Masterson, director of Texas Target Communities at Texas A&M University shared information about their free and low-cost planning services for small towns in the state. Janice Vyoral and Renee Butler, business owners in downtown Rosenberg also gave their stories about how to unite small businesses to revitalize historic commercial districts.

Sabrina Glenn and Monica Pierre shared information on several loan and grant programs available from the USDA Office of Rural Development. H-GAC staff also reviewed a set of recurring placemaking grant opportunities.

Isabel Longoria, Associate State Director for AARP, led a discussion on age-friendly planning and design, and shared a number of resources for local leaders to champion livability in their communities.

Emily Koller from the Texas Historical Commission (THC) presented information on THC programs, including the DowntownTX.org tool.

Representatives from Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) shared insights into transportation funding and best practices for working with TxDOT.

Speakers from Wharton County discussed their efforts to leverage historic preservation for downtown revitalization.

The speaker presented ways to utilize existing assets in a community to move a plan forward. Attendees also learned the benefits of using Google tools to support small businesses.

Speakers discussed effective revitalization efforts in Bastrop and best practices in downtown land use policies.

Speakers discussed Downtown Parks and Public Spaces.

Speakers from Bryan, Conroe, La Porte, and Navasota discussed downtown events.

Speakers discussed regional resources available from H-GAC and the components of well-designed downtowns.

Speakers discussed the benefits of heritage and cycling tourism for small towns.

Workshop Series on Downtown Revitalization in Small Cities and Towns

H-GAC hosted a series of workshops with experts from throughout Texas providing tips on how to create an economically-vibrant Main Street in the region’s small cities and towns. Each workshop focused on a different component of the revitalization process.

Speakers described characteristics of vibrant downtowns and explain how communities can plan for revitalization, based on community input.

Speakers identified policies, programs and funding tools that can be used to support and encourage investment downtown.

Speakers described ways communities can market their downtowns to residents, businesses and visitors.