The City of Baytown will continue to invest in the Baytown Arts District, as it hopes to develop a nearly 1-acre site on Texas Avenue into a vibrant destination that will draw visitors to the Downtown Arts District.
Urban designers with SWA Group presented concepts and cost estimates to the Baytown Municipal Development District Thursday for the development of the site at the corner of Texas Avenue and S. Ashbel Street.
The presentation included buildings — possibly two stories with a terrace — that could house restaurants or cafes, a gateway art installation space, a garden and patio, urban play zones, food truck plaza, sidewalk café area, a picnic lawn, an art market plaza, parking and art courtyard.
The presentation also proposed closing S. Ashbel Street, between Texas Avenue and W. Pearce Street, to connect the Town Square to the new plaza.
City Manager Rick Davis justified building a facility that could house a restaurant with an established clientele first so it can generate foot traffic immediately.
“All of the other elements that have been presented really support the restaurant concept or the hospitality concept,” Davis said. “Nobody is going to Texas Avenue just to play on a toy. But they will come here to eat, and they will come here to be entertained.”
Davis recommended moving forward with design of phase one, potentially accounting for construction in next year’s budget.
“We cannot continue to wait for energy to grow organically on Texas Avenue. It is not going to happen,” Davis said. “We’ve had to take the initiative to do the Brunson, we’re having to do the same with Citizen Bank and we’re going to have to replicate that effort in other parts of Texas Avenue if you’re really going to realize the kind of cultural and community center that Texas Avenue really can become.”
Designers with SWA Group estimated the project would cost just under $4.5 million.
“There is a critical mass of bars, restaurants, art venues and traffic from Lee College that can really support the site offerings,” Amna Ansari, urban designer with SWA Group, said. “And most importantly, the Town Square that’s to the west of the site has a success and an identity that we really want to bring into how we look at the site we were given.”
The goal for SWA Group was to combine landscaping, architecture and functionality to support and build upon the vision and identity the city has for the Downtown Arts District.
“It looks fantastic,” Chris Presley, District 2 councilman, said. “My personal opinion is that I like the option where the buildings are separated. It staggers the streetscape more so down the street than it does with the buildings together. And I think the only option is a phasing approach with the restaurant shell being phase one.”
District 5 Councilman Bob Hoskins agreed with the necessity of moving forward with the project, noting it filled a void in the city.
“This is something that needs to be done. There are a lot of communities that have these that are very successful,” Bob Hoskins, District 5 councilman, said. “Baytown, with a population of 80,000 people during the day and over 100,000 people, and we don’t have something like this. It’s desperately needed.”
“This will be great if we can make it happen and make it happen soon,” he added.