The Town Square Initiative (TSI) operates in affiliation with the Texas Main Street Program (TMSP) sharing staff, resources, and the core values. However, TSI is a stand-alone program within the Community Heritage Development Division at the Texas Historical Commission and serves communities that are participating in other agency programs.
TSI was developed in 2014 under the direction of the Commission utilizing staff positions appropriated by the 83rd Legislature. The program was envisioned to leverage the significant investments the state and local communities have already made through the work of agency programs such the TMSP, Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program (THCPP), and the Certified Local Government Program (CLG). A year of research and field work resulted in the concept of highly targeted and specialized services that will add another resource to these powerful agency programs. The intent is to help a struggling downtown turn the corner and generate other substantial revitalization projects.
In the most successful local revitalization programs, both first floor and second floor occupancies are high. Unfortunately vacant space is still far too common in many of the cities in which we work. In the fall of 2014, staff surveyed the level of vacant downtown property among, at the time, 87 Main Street cities. With a response rate of 92 percent or nearly 80 communities, the results showed first floor downtown vacancies in 1,340 buildings, equivalent to approximately 17 percent of first floor retail space. It is conservatively estimated that this number would more than double if it were to include the number of underutilized, rather than just vacant, buildings in the survey.
The cycle of underutilization that can lead to vacancy, abandonment, and possible demolition is one of the greatest challenges to the preservation of historic buildings. Suburban growth and the increase of big box, discount, and online retail continues to radically change the economic status of historic downtowns across the state. Many rural communities continue to experience substantial population loss as a majority of people migrate to urban areas. Meanwhile the existing federal tax incentives for the rehabilitation of historic commercial properties have been significantly underutilized in Texas. The new state franchise tax credit provides a critical and game-changing opportunity to dramatically increase the usage of both incentives.
Since the state tax credit was introduced in January 2015, there has been a significant amount of new private sector investor interest in Texas. The moment is ideal for supporting and encouraging this downtown investment potential. TSI works in communities where a combination of policy and preservation incentives can be leveraged to accomplish local, small-scale, and high-quality redevelopment projects.
The TSI team provides services to spur preservation-based projects so that local, small-scale, and high-quality development becomes more achievable in historic Texas downtowns. TSI’s work is guided by a place-driven and market-informed philosophy meaning that we focus on supporting viable redevelopment projects in communities that are strongly motivated by enhancing the quality of place in their downtowns. Through this approach, development barriers are addressed, a place-driven perspective is prioritized, and vacant and underutilized properties become investment opportunities and community assets once again.
TSI provides project support in communities that have already demonstrated a substantial commitment to historic preservation-based revitalization. An interdisciplinary team with expertise in architecture, planning and economic development provides specialized assistance with a focus on:
- Conceptual design and financial feasibility studies for vacant buildings that are place-driven and
- Coordinated downtown planning strategies to address development barriers in order to make it easier for local property owners and entrepreneurs to invest in their downtowns.
- Increasing and influencing the market exposure of available properties across Texas including attracting investors who value historic architecture and the special qualities of each community.
- Providing information, education, and resources on best practices that have a positive impact on local policy and decision-making.
Through a strong belief that historic commercial resources and their appropriate preservation is a major contributor to the overall economic, social, and cultural vitality of a community, the staff of the Initiative shall exhibit great passion, interest, and enthusiasm for assisting local stakeholders as they revitalize their historic town centers. To that end, we view ourselves as public servants working in harmony to help local communities meet their objectives. We will strive to provide highly effective individualized services to our designated programs in a team-centered approach.