Dayton city leaders visit Georgetown to glean info on downtown revitalization

City leaders from Dayton visited Georgetown Thursday to learn more about that city's revitalization efforts. Pictured are (front row, left to right) Courtland Holman, Dayton Community Development Corporation; Jennifer Billings, municipal clerk; Kellie Buchanan, management analyst; Sherial Lawson, city council; Shannon O'Keefe, city secretary; Theo Melancon, city manager; (back row) Kimberly Judge, director of planning; Rudy Zapeda, financial director; Wendell Null, council; Police Chief John Headrick; and James Perkins, IT manager.

By Vanesa Brashier

City leaders in Dayton continue to aggressively work on a downtown revitalization plan and are learning from the mistakes and successes of other Texas cities before unveiling the final plan for Dayton in the coming months.

On Thursday, July 19, City Manager Theo Melancon, Councilmembers Wendell Null and Sherial Lawson, Dayton Community Development Corporation Director Courtland Holman and other city leaders visited the city of Georgetown, Texas, where a transformation has taken place over the last two decades.

“Just 20 years ago, the downtown area of Georgetown was full of boarded-up buildings. Now if you look at it, you wouldn’t even have known that the buildings were ever boarded up,” Melancon said. “It’s now a very nice destination town. In fact, it’s one of the top locations in central Texas. It’s an absolutely gorgeous jewel of a Main Street program in the state of Texas.”

During their visit, city leaders brainstormed with their counterparts in Georgetown, gleaning valuable information they hope to use in Dayton. The trip was arranged by Dayton’s management analyst Kellie Buchanan and Georgetown’s management analyst, Seth Gipson.

“The city of Georgetown really opened up their processes to show how they run their city. The reason why the trip was important is because Georgetown had to learn by trial and error,” Melancon said. “While we know we are going to have trials and errors, we want to limit that all we can. We don’t have a lot of resources. When we go down the wrong path, we don’t have as many opportunities to do it over again.”

Grant funding was a major topic on the trip as the city of Dayton hopes to capitalize on grants as it moves forward with its master plan for parks, a requirement for funding from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

“We also had some ideas on creative ways to get the 50 percent local match that does not have to include money, which was pretty outstanding. That was an eye-opener for me. I am going to do a little more homework on it, but it was something I didn’t know existed in the parks grant system before the trip to Georgetown,” Melancon said.

Melancon says he is encouraged that the city of Dayton is moving in the right direction with its revitalization efforts as Georgetown leaders plan to borrow and incorporate some ideas that are working in Dayton.

“It was really an idea exchange,” he added.

So where is Dayton’s downtown? That depends on who you ask. Even Melancon has two ideas about what areas should be considered “downtown.”

“Most people would probably say the blocks south of FM 1008 and north to Houston Street, from 321 to Colbert, which is a very small, condensed area. My vision, which actually came out of our downtown revitalization work committee, is an expanded downtown, thinking of it as south to the community center and north to 321, all the way from 146 to Colbert,” he said.

The bigger footprint would naturally provide more possibilities for retail and mixed-use areas. Some of businesses that Melancon would like to see in a revitalized downtown Dayton are boutique shops, candy shops, novelty stores and restaurants. With mixed-use buildings, retail stores could be in the bottom floor of a building while the upper floors could be used for professional offices.

The amenities would not only put Dayton on the map as a tourist destination, they would improve the quality of life for the people who call Dayton home.

“One of the big things for Texas is tourism. A lot of people want to come to experience Texas and see the history of the state. Even though Dayton’s history may not be told in buildings as much as other areas, we have a very dynamic history, and people who enjoy small towns and amenities will come to visit,” the city manager said.

While other Texas cities benefited from the Texas Main Street program, a state-funded program that Melancon said has been “gutted pretty badly,” Dayton businesses have opportunities to apply for business development grants through the Dayton Community Development Corporation.

“The DCDC grants fill the void of the Main Street program,” Melancon said.

In the coming weeks, city leaders plan to visit other cities within a reasonable driving distance to see what else they can learn before launching the city’s revitalization plan.

“It’s a lot cheaper for us to take a few hours out of our day to hear from people who have successfully done this than for us to try to figure it out on our own,” Melancon said. “Our goal afterward is to put a plan together and unveil a full plan, to show people what is coming. My big message to the Houston Metro Area is: Dayton is coming, so pay attention.”

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Before creating Bluebonnet News in 2018, Vanesa Brashier was a community editor for the Houston Chronicle/Houston Community Newspapers. During part of her 12 years at the newspapers, she was assigned as the digital editor and managing editor for the Humble Observer, Kingwood Observer, East Montgomery County Observer and the Lake Houston Observer, and the editor of the Dayton News, Cleveland Advocate and Eastex Advocate. Over the years, she has earned more than two dozen writing awards, including Journalist of the Year.

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