Talk of the town

Published 1:48 pm Friday, March 23, 2012

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From Austin Main Street to Vision 2020, downtown remains center stage

This story originally appeared in Progress 2012. Get a copy at the Austin Daily Herald.

Jill DeMeyer and Lindsey Haney took a minute to consider what has been challenging during the first year of business for their Style Lounge Salon in downtown Austin.

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They couldn’t think of anything.

“Everything’s been a real positive experience,” DeMeyer said of their salon that opened in November 2010. “The community has really supported the downtown area, and you feel that when you have a business on Main Street.”

The co-owners felt they started their business at the perfect time, as the Austin Main Street Project — a grassroots movement started in 2005 to fund renovations and additions downtown — was in full swing.

Now, between Austin Main Street and Vision 2020 — a grassroots community betterment project launched in 2011 looking for 10 ideas to implement by 2020 — downtown improvements seem to be on everyone’s mind.

“The main street project was put together by the community,” said Sarah Douty, Austin Main Street Project Executive Director. “It’s the community saying we want something done downtown. Vision 2020 is very similar, with the community saying this is what we want.”

Douty said she will be following Vision 2020 closely to see if Main Street officials can structure their program to fit with Vision 2020’s top 10 priorities. Vision 2020 has whittled its list to 30 ideas, which includes attracting businesses downtown, along with creating public gathering areas, entertainment, art events, parks for kids and outdoor festivals or concerts, all downtown.

“That’s all stuff we could certainly help with and tailor what we do,” Douty said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with.”

While Vision 2020 is the hot topic now — the group is preparing to announce its 10 best ideas in March — Douty said the Austin Main Street Project isn’t going anywhere, either.

The project started as a funding source to supplement downtown property owners’ renovations and expansions, to attract new businesses, and to give businesses owners like DeMeyer and Haney a break on their first month’s rent. Through 2011, it helped renovate 36 storefronts, created six housing units, and relocated or expanded 17 businesses, contributing $2.19 million in the process.

Now, Main Street officials are looking to expand beyond its original intent.

“Of course we’re getting to a point now where we need to look at more than just the buildings,” Douty said. “There’s opportunities there for us to break out from our traditional renovations and look at doing more with public spaces, and more things that would be a public benefit, like Vision 2020 stuff.”

If Austin Main Street and Vision 2020 pool their efforts as planned, DeMeyer expects the downtown to continue to grow.

“I see it only growing more,” she said. “I guess Austin is more unique versus other downtown areas (of similar size). … Bringing new businesses gives the downtown attention and helps it expand, and I feel like Austin does have that right now.”