Main Street Project still going strong

Published 7:34 am Monday, September 13, 2010

This September marks the five-year anniversary of the Austin Main Street Project, and Sarah Douty, coordinator of the project, is looking forward to giving downtown a worthy celebration.

“I think we’ve got a lot to show for the five years we’ve been working downtown,” Douty said.

She is excited for the opportunity to showcase the work that has been accomplished when the Austin Main Street Project hosts a street dance on Friday, Sept. 17, to commemorate the anniversary. The celebration will be complete with food vendors, specials from Steve’s Pizza, the Jaycees beer wagon and free music from The Belfast Cowboys, which is a Van Morrison tribute band, and local band The Amish Playboys, Douty said.

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Douty said that when the project was launched five years ago nobody expected to accomplish so many renovations in such a short period of time.

“We had hoped that we’d have maybe a handful of projects done by now,” she said. “We’ve accomplished more than anyone expected.”

To this date, the project is responsible for the renovation of 31 buildings downtown. Douty said the project has also brought in over $4.7 million in both public and private investment downtown.

Douty said that recently the program has begun undertaking projects to build apartments above some of the downtown buildings, and so far five apartments have been completed.

“I think (the apartments) add a lot to the atmosphere downtown,” Douty said. “Younger people like the more urban setting where they can walk or bike to get what they need.”

The project has secured funding through 2012, according to Douty. She said she may begin procuring smaller projects in the future, such as “sprucing up buildings that are in decent shape.”

“We’ll also see more development around the plaza area and fire area down the road a little bit,” Douty said.

Belita Schindler, vice president of the Austin Main Street Project Board of Directors, said she is excited about how far the program has come, and she thinks it will continue to evolve over the next few years.

“We may expand our boundaries eventually,” Schindler said. “(Five years ago) nobody thought we’d be this far by now. We’re all just elated with this.”

Schindler also said she is happy that the project has been productive instead of sitting stagnant with ideas but no action.

“A lot of the credit goes to Sarah,” said Schindler, who has been volunteering with the project since it launched. “She is what makes this project work.”

Douty said she is always looking for more volunteers for new ideas and fresh perspectives.

“So many people have ideas or skills they can offer,” she said. “We’re open to and always looking for new ideas.”

For now, though, Douty just wants to recognize the five years of hard work that she and everyone else involved with the program have put into revitalizing downtown Austin.

“I’m hoping the weather cooperates and people come down to the street dance,” Douty said. “Let’s bring people downtown and bring the community together.”