Planning for a downtown business boom

Published 7:01 am Sunday, December 7, 2014

Crews take down a building between Second and Fourth Avenues Northeast in November at the future home of the Spam Museum. Herald file photo

Crews take down a building between Second and Fourth Avenues Northeast in November at the future home of the Spam Museum. Herald file photo

When the new Spam Museum opens downtown, local leaders want business owners to know what to expect when it comes to parking, traffic, peak hours and more to better equip them to capitalize on the changes.

Vision 2020 and community leaders plan to meet soon to start discussing ways downtown merchants can make the most of the increased traffic when the Spam Museum opens on North Main Street between Second and Fourth Avenues in the spring of 2016.

“We want to have lots of information, and we also want to get lots of smart people thinking about the logistics,” said Vision 2020 Director of Vision Creation Laura Helle.

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In September, Hormel Foods Corp. closed the Spam Museum at 1101 N. Main St. to start work on the new museum. Community Leaders expect the Spam Museum project to have a major impact on downtown Austin — both in 2015 and in 2016. With the Spam Museum’s old location closed, Helle expects a bit of a down year for tourism in 2015. But in 2016, Helle and others expect a tourism boom for people coming to see the new museum, which Helle expects will taper off to normal tourism levels over a few years — which is what happened when the old museum opened.

Vision 2020 could form a task force to lead the charge, but plans are still in the early stages.

However, Stephnee Leathers, Destination Downtown co-chair, said Austin is at a unique point in its history, so it’s important to be proactive in discussing ideas for what’s to come.

“I think it’s just about bringing people together to communicate,” Leathers said.

The initial planning will take place through the business development subcommittee of the Destination Downtown committee.

The idea to start meeting on the museum’s effects stemmed from a conversation between former Mayor Bonnie Rietz and Belita Schindler, the co-chairs of the Austin ArtWorks Festival.

On a drive home from a meeting, the two talked about how the museum will change downtown, especially how it will attract more tourists. After all, the two have seen similar changes with the ArtWorks Festival bringing people downtown one weekend a year in August. However, many businesses are typically open for reduced hours on Saturdays and others aren’t open Sundays.

But organizers have tried to change that during the festival.  Since the first year, organizers noticed more businesses change their hours.

“We’ve noticed that more have stayed open,” Rietz said.

To Helle, it will be important for business owners to know how many people they can expect downtown and when. For example, Helle said someone like Kyle Keenan may want to know how many will be stopping at the Coffeehouse on Main on Saturday; however, decisions on staffing and hours will be left up to individual businesses.

“It’ll be up to the individual retailer, but we can get them the information,” Helle said.

Retailers could also discuss adding products or food lines to attract Spam Museum customers. While Steve’s Pizza already has pizzas that include Spam, other businesses like the B & J recently discussed adding Spam food items to the menu.

Parking will also be a concern, and while there will be some parking in the lot between the Jail and Justice Center and the B & J Bar and Grill, much of the parking will have to be on the street. Especially during peak times, that could complicate parking.

“We want the neighborhood to understand the traffic,” Helle said.

Helle said they could put signage downtown that directs them to the museum and tells visitors how far of a walk it is.

Though she helped inspire the idea, Rietz isn’t on the Downtown Destination committee and may not even be part of a potential task force. However, she’s excited for what the future may hold once the museum opens in the heart of downtown.

“Just to think about it and prepare will really help that visitor coming into the community have a great experience,” Rietz said.

Leaders are looking for interested people to participate with the group. For more information, contact Leathers at 507-434-4662 or at

“We’re always looking for people, so it would be great if anyone interested wished to join us,” Leathers said.