Round Rock is about to get some federal help for a downtown revitalization project that the city hopes will make the area more pedestrian-friendly and alleviate traffic congestion. It’s part of a larger effort to expand downtown and make it a destination.
The city was recently awarded $400,000 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to help pay for a $5.5 million street project that will realign Main Street and turn part of Round Rock Avenue into a pedestrian plaza.
The project will also add a turn lane on Mays Street, a major north-south corridor that experiences traffic congestion during rush hour.
“Getting from one side of Mays to the other on foot right now is an adventure,” said Will Hampton, city spokesman. “With this project, it’ll be easier for pedestrians to cross and we’ll be able to get more cars through the intersection. It’s a win-win.”
The federal funds will be used primarily for pedestrian features, said Gary Hudder, the city’s director of transportation.
Construction on that phase of the project is expected to begin in late fall, he said.
The street project is just one component of a broad city effort to revitalize Round Rock’s downtown area and attract more businesses. The total price tag for the larger effort is $65 million, which includes streets, a new amphitheater that opened in the spring, art installations and more trees.
The City Council recently approved changes to the city’s zoning ordinance that will allow for mixed-use development and higher-density housing downtown, like townhouses and condominiums.
“We think this will facilitate growth and development downtown,” said Brad Wiseman, director of planning and development services. “The idea is to expand what we have in the two block area of historic downtown into a larger area.”
Officials envision restaurants, retail, bars, office space and residential units spread throughout a pedestrian-friendly downtown.
To move that vision along, the city recently purchased two pieces of downtown real estate. One is a three-acre property currently occupied by a gypsum manufacturer just west of historic downtown, and the other is an empty lot one block off of Main Street that is being turned into a temporary parking lot.
“That could potentially double the area of downtown,” city manager Steve Norwood said of the three-acre site. “Everyone says how great downtown is, but there just isn’t enough of it.”
The city paid about $2 million for the site and the manufacturer is expected to move near Chisholm Trail, keeping the business and its jobs in Round Rock. The city hopes to attract a private developer to use the site to expand the entertainment district of downtown.
Round Rock is becoming a younger city, Norwood said, with the average resident now in their 30s. That demographic tends to shun chain restaurants and prefers independent businesses, like those found downtown.
“They are looking for something unique and we’re looking to turn downtown into a destination where they can find it,” Norwood said.