The issue: Local leaders fear downtown area lacks consistent messaging.
The impact: Downtown Brownwood Inc. and a new Chamber committee are hoping to change that.
It’s been just over 70 years since Camp Bowie was declared surplus by the U.S. War Department, effectively ending what had been perhaps the busiest era ever for Brownwood and its downtown. Brownwood’s business leaders, elected officials and brightest minds have been working ever since to preserve the historic city center that was built for a railroad and boomed for an army, but now supports a population of 20,000 that grows little through the years.
Eric Evans is the artistic director of Brownwood’s Lyric Theatre and was the last paid employee of Downtown Brownwood Inc., which he worked for part-time over 10 years ago. Evans said DBI was founded about 60 years ago by downtown retail owners who saw what Camp Bowie’s closure meant for the area.
“During that time, they would go door-to-door [collecting dues],” Evans said. “They advocated. They had events and activities. They just told the story.”
Right now, DBI exists mostly as the owner of some downtown parking lots. But Evans hopes to start telling the story again. “We need a way to get the information out,” he said. “How can we continually disseminate the stuff that’s taking place?
“If you look at the downtown area, you have the Lyric, the Art Center, the county museum, the transportation museum, Waylon and Ray’s. There is quite a bit of entertainment going on on a regular basis, but nobody knows what it is. I do believe that DBI can be a point of dissemination for that.”
Over at the Brownwood Area Chamber of Commerce, executive director Ray Tipton has assembled a committee of downtown stakeholders that wants to help tell the story as well. Though Tipton said the group is still in its “early stages,” he also sees the benefits of a unified downtown message.
“There’s a lot of really neat things that happen downtown,” Tipton said, “but they’re all a little bit in a vacuum, I think. They do a really good job of marketing their own events, but not collectively.”
He said, for instance, that people leaving a Muse & Merlot art class at the Brownwood Art Association might be interested in the play at the Lyric, or the exhibit at the Lehnis Railroad Museum — they just don’t know about it. “We just want to make sure people don’t slip through the cracks like that,” he said.
Tipton said that collective marketing could eventually manifest itself in a website, an online calendar or a physical flyer that downtown organizations can use. He’d also like to bring downtown groups together for event planning. “If we can have all those people at the table, they can coordinate those events a bit better,” he said. “Maybe even create a larger event that they can cross-promote somehow.”
For Evans, the Lyric’s success is an example of downtown’s possibilities. But he knows his theater can’t thrive on its own. “In order to find a sustainable, long-term, healthy business model as an organization,” he said, “we need downtown to be thriving at a much more robust pace than it currently is.”
And beyond its cultural organizations, he said, that’s going to require some new businesses as well.