“Hey, let’s go grab a bite to eat.”
“Where do you want to go?”
“Let’s just go downtown and we’ll figure it out.”
That’s an imaginary conversation envisioned by Eric Evans, managing director of the Lyric Theatre, when he described his goal for downtown Brownwood.
Evans is part of a small and loose-knit committee organized by Brownwood Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ray Tipton. Tipton refers to the committee as simply the Downtown Committee, which also includes Marshal McIntosh, who is the marketing communication manager for the City of Brownwood and Brownwood Municipal Development District; Jodie Armstrong, who with her husband, Don, owns Brownwood Music; Jamie Munson of Landmark Life; and businessman Hank Hunter.
“Our goals are to get people down the street,” Evans said in his office inside the Lyric. The theatre is on Center Avenue, a street that would become part of a bustling and active downtown district, which would include shops, restaurants and entertainment venues if goals become reality.
“Our goals are for people to be having an experience when they get to downtown that is different than they may experience when they’re driving down Commerce, and it’s something that’s pleasurable, and it’s something that they want in their lives, where they can come down here and they can shop, and they can eat.”
Guy Andrews, executive director of the Brownwood Municipal Development District (BMDD), said those goals represent more than just talk. Andrews is confident there will be a more “vibrant” downtown as the BMDD, other organizations and individuals work together to redevelop Brownwood’s large, historical downtown district.
“You had a downtown area that’s kind of gone to sleep,” Andrews said. “We’re awakening a sleeping giant. It’s really pretty amazing.”
Downtown development is part of a triad of BMDD priorities in what Andrews described as “community development.” The other two priorities are addressing housing issues and addressing the “skills gap” — an effort to ensure high school graduates have skills to work in local industry if they choose, Andrews said.
The BMDD is making funds available for some downtown projects. Some are underway such as building improvement grants the BMDD makes available to businesses that qualify.
Other projects are yet to come — notably, the one by developers Jeff Tucker and Mark Andrews (no relation to Guy Andrews) of Pecan Bayou Enterprises. The partnership recently bought the former Weakley-Watson Sporting Goods building from the Blagg family and has plans for future, though as-yet undisclosed, downtown development.
Funds for downtown development could also include helping the owners of the former Kroger and Hasting’s buildings get those properties out of the flood plain making them more marketable, Andrews said.
“We’re leveraging money that would come from private sources, the chamber and the MDD,” Andrews said. “The burden isn’t on one single organization. I think you’re going to see some amazing changes.”
There have been several catalysts in spurring the interest in downtown development including the $4 million restoration of the Lyric Theatre
Another catalyst: In May 2016, Brownwood voters approved the conversion of what was then the Brownwood Economic Development Corp. into the BMDD. A municipal development district is permitted by law to do community development projects the previous entity could not do.
“When we converted from an economic development corporation to a municipal development district, the reason we did that is, we realized that just recruiting manufacturing and primary jobs was not all that Brownwood needed. We always need manufacturing and primary jobs and continue to recruit those. However, a Type A (economic development corporation) like we had, primarily focused on those two elements of economic development.
“The MDD structure allows us to fund a wider variety of projects. Community development and economic development have to go hand-in-hand in order for (economic development efforts) to be successful.”
Marketing, social media and downtown banners are spreading the message about downtown, and a website called “Visit Brownwood” — a joint effort by the BMDD and chamber of commerce — is under construction.
In his office at the Lyric, Evans continued describing his futuristic views of the downtown.
“I can envision the downtown area being a destination for lunch, or a destination in the evening,” Evans said.
“Hey, do you want to go out tonight?”
“Do you want to do something?”
“Yeah, let’s just go downtown and we’ll figure it out.”