(ROCKWALL, TX – April 3, 2016) With the final phase of the $8.6 million Capital Improvement Project (CIP) revitalizing Downtown Rockwall near completion, the city will host a large scale celebration on Saturday, April 16 to commemorate the enhancements brought to the historic downtown square.
The three-year project includes significant improvements to the sidewalks and street crossings downtown, as well as providing three ancillary parking lots, an additional 200 parking spaces near the downtown square, better lighting, landscaping, and a pedestrian mall and courthouse plaza.
Toward the end of 2008, the City of Rockwall was officially designated a Main Street City due to the growth and success of its downtown businesses and restaurants. As foot traffic began to increase, the city saw a need to create a more pedestrian friendly downtown, with safer sidewalks and more parking spaces. Bill Cecil, mayor of the city at the time, and his fellow city councilmen created a CIP committee which came up with five initiatives addressing issues and needs throughout the community.
Later, under the direction of Mayor David Sweet, the city council decided to move forward with two of those initiatives – one improving the roads and streets throughout the city, and the other revitalizing downtown – and took that decision to the voters, who overwhelmingly supported it.
Sweet, who currently serves as county judge, said the downtown revitalization project received a phenomenal amount of support from both downtown merchants and residents.
“A lot of times with projects you’ll have some folks who don’t fully buy in, but that’s not been the case as far as downtown is concerned,” Sweet said. “Everybody here is committed to making this a success.”
He added, “It’s a destination location. Everyone wants to be a part of it and it’s a fun place to be. There’s also a good group of retailers and restaurants here. And it’s still evolving as more businesses and restaurants want to become a part of the synergy of downtown Rockwall.”
Although the decision to split the project into phases extended the timeline for completion somewhat, Sweet said it helped to minimize construction impact on each of the downtown businesses, and that he has heard nothing but positive feedback from the merchants.
“Working down here every day of every week, and seeing the transformation of everything coming together has been amazing,” said Sandy Johnson, owner of Bella’s House and Enjoy Kitchen Frills and Gourmet. “I think they did really good on the parking and made the sidewalks very pedestrian friendly, which is definitely something we needed.”
“It’s really opened downtown Rockwall up and made it more inviting,” said Groovy’s owner Christi Foster. “The potential of all the things that this project will bring to downtown, because of all of these new flat and safer areas to do fun things in… I think it gives the community an opportunity to truly enjoy their downtown.”
Worker Bee Studio owner Denise Webb added that the renovations have helped Rockwall to become a true destination location.
“It’s brought us up-to-date as far as downtown areas in other cities are concerned,” Webb said. “Everything is very easily identifiable, such as where to park and where the shops are located. You can walk up and down the sidewalks and not have to worry about someone stumbling and falling. With the beautiful new shrubbery and trees, it truly becomes a destination spot now.”
According to Main Street Manager Bethany Browning, the additional parking in particular has been very positive for the downtown area, allowing folks to forgo having to drive in circles to find a place to park on the square.
“I think the parking is huge,” Browning said. “Since we’ve increased our retail square footage so much, it’s going to help to have those extra spaces.”
Celebrate Downtown April 16
The Celebrate Rockwall event on April 16 marks the project’s completion while thanking everyone who supported the CIP. The fun begins at 11 a.m., with a “Rockwall Through the Decades” parade at noon, live music by Scott Isaacs and Inside Out Band, entertainment from Dallas Puppet Theater, a Hobnobbin’ & Sippin’ hosted by Rockwall Old Town Shoppes, and Farmer’s Market in San Jacinto Plaza.
Folks can also enjoy a walking tour of Historic Downtown Rockwall and the Historic Courthouse Jail using the Official Rockwall Area App, and watch Rockwall’s transformation through the years with oral history videos courtesy of the Rockwall County Historical Foundation. A car show, food trucks, kids’ activities, art demonstrations and a carousel will round out the festivities of the momentous occasion.
Story and photos by Austin Wells, Blue Ribbon News staff writer.
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