Texas Street businesses debate: What do we do with beautification reimbursement?

811
Joel Taylor, right, owns Mufflex. He and Dawson Smith had not heard of the façade improvement program. Photos by Nathan Wilson

Nathan Wilson | Reporter
The Community Façade and Economic Enhancement Committee (CFEEC) is preparing to give away $100,000 on Texas and Washington Streets, and if property owners there won’t take the money, they’ll find someone who will.
Pending an April 25 city council vote approving the revised ordinance, the CFEEC will offer grants for façade improvements up to $8,000 each to business owners for improvements intended to revitalize two of the city’s ailing economic corridors. Elton Wade Sr. applied to be on the grant application review committee, “I wanted to lend a hand pulling it together and make sure it’s a good, positive program and it’s feasible,” he says. “We’re getting close. We’re just waiting for approval from the city.”
Anticipating approval, the CFEEC is already communicating with business owners. The committee met with Texas Street business owners April 11 to answer their questions. Wade explained the reason for the meeting. “We’re going to reach out to everyone who has a business in that area,” he says. “Then we’re going to offer an invitation to Washington and meet with them.’”

This article published in the April 23, 2022, print edition
Texas Street Grocery, left, owners Sharonda and Darrin Turner are developing plans to improve their building’s façade. At right, Joanne’s Faster Tax has already made improvements, such as new paint, but would like to further beautify their location. Texas Street businesses could get up to $8,000 each in grant funding for façade improvements. Photos by Nathan Wilson

Wade explained why he applied to be on the CFEEC. “(In the past) façade improvement moneys for the city of Natchitoches would all go in one area,” he says. “This gives an extension into another business area.” He has taken it upon himself to ensure business owners are aware of the program. “As volunteer work, I’m going to personally take those applications to them and drop them off just to show them how serious we are about helping them.” He explains why he feels personally invested in the effort. “One should always be concerned about doing something for the betterment of the community,” he says.
Mufflex Auto Center owner Joel Taylor hadn’t heard of the grants as of April 19. “This is the first I’ve ever heard of it,” he says. “I always check for something in the mail, especially from the city.” He was happy to learn the news. “Any help would be appreciated,” he remarks. “I try to keep my business fairly clean, but I surely could use some parking lot work.” He explains the problem he faces near the entrance to his business. “The city’s water, a lot of times, leaks right up there and it runs right down here and gets it soft and it always causes a problem.”
John Strickland’s father owns Natchitoches Crawfish at McFarland Center. His family had heard of the grant program and is also hoping to repair their parking lot. “There’s a lot of holes we’re going to fix up that have been there for a while,” he says. He explains their goal. “(It’s) not necessarily increased traffic, just better on people that come through here.”
Leaner Thomas has already spoken to the building owner about getting a new sign advertising her dry cleaning and alteration business.

“We won’t touch the parking lots,” Wade indicates. He offers examples of eligible projects. “You might see an extra awning, an extra beautification or maybe a sign. You may see some landscaping. You may see some greenery,” he says. “Some of them may not have to get a permit to do the work if it’s just painting to make it look pretty.” He warns building tenants will need to obtain permission from the owner. “We will not do what the property owner does not want,” he insists. “There’s going to have to be an agreement between the tenant and the property owner that says ‘yeah you can put a sign there.’”
Leaner Thomas offers dry cleaning and alteration services at J&L Cleaners. She owns her business, but not the building, so she has already spoken to the property owner about adding a new sign. “I’m going to get a sign to go out there on the wall,” she says. “We ain’t messing up the building or nothing. Signs you can take down.” She has been in business for years but notices a problem. “I see people don’t even know about me,” she says. “I wish it could be a neon sign flashing.”
Wade described the committee’s role in selecting projects. “We’re going to go over these applications once they start coming in, so the decisions are not based on just one person,” he says. “If my input would give some validity to the program, then I’m all in 100 percent.” He’s going above and beyond by reaching out to business owners to explain the program to the letter, and when he receives a question he consults with the city’s legal counsel. “We’re going to go by what’s in the paper because that’s what’s lawfully given to us to get done,” he says.
Denise Bradley and Harry Hymes own The Breadhouse Nakatosh. “I love the fact they’re looking to help the businesses on Texas Street,” Hymes says before laying out some ideas. “We need a tall enough sign out there, because you don’t see our sign until you get under the hill.” He waves toward the parking lot. “We need this whole area lit up,” he says. “The oak trees on Breda make it real dark, and the patrons feel safer if the area is well lit.” He points to a grassy area in front of the building. “Then we need to have all that area out there improved for parking.”
Hymes also has concerns. “I dislike the fact that they’re asking the business to pay at least twenty-five percent of the grant,” he says. “A lot of businesses are strapped for cash right now.” He worries about businesses covering the entire cost until they’re reimbursed. “I can’t think of a small business on Washington Street (that) could come up with 10 or 15 grand cash and then wait,” he says.
With its first anniversary April 24, the Breadhouse’s façade is freshly renovated. Hymes weighs the opportunity. “Whenever we invest, we think about the return,” he says. “I have people come in here all the time say ‘I didn’t even read your sign,’” He thinks it over. “When you sell a business or you go out of business, the sign doesn’t really do any good because the next person’s going to take the sign down, but the improvements on the parking lot and the lighting will be forever, and it will actually enhance the business and bring the property value up.” he says.
Bradley hopes the program reflects the city’s renewed interest in her area. “We feel it’s long overdue. Texas Street has a lot of history with it,” she says. “We’re excited that moneys will go to this side of town to do some improvements,” She hopes the city will support their area in other ways. “When they shut down Front Street they do it very strategically so that those businesses don’t lose money, but when it comes to Texas Street, we find out by us trying to get down there and it’s barricaded.”
Bradley looks forward to a positive impact. “Everything’s all pretty on Front Street and East Natchitoches. It can be pretty on Texas Street also,” she says. She wants to see more development. “We had Lee’s Furniture leave and that left a big opening,” she says. “We’d like for them to draw more businesses to Texas Street, and make it more commercial so it can be hustling and bustling like it is on Keyser and on Front Street.”
Wade believes the program will benefit more than just the property owners who take advantage of it. “One of the objectives is to create more business,” he says. “We’re hoping that businesses will have a ripple effect on the (buildings) that are not occupied and maybe somebody will come put a business in there,” he says. He emphasizes the funds must go to existing businesses, not future ones. “It has to be an existing business. If there’s no employees there (or) if there’s no business going on, it’s considered private property.”
Princess Adkins’ parents own Joanne’s Faster Tax Service. She and her parents also hadn’t heard of the program, but they plan incremental improvements as part of their business strategy. “Every year before tax season we sketch out what we’re going to do,” she says. “The goal after the season is to redo the parking area.” She explains. “There were people in every chair yesterday,” she says. “This year we had to park across the street.”
The grant won’t reimburse Joanne’s recent improvements. “We added lights this year outside so now when it’s dark, it’s lit up,” Adkins says. “We painted last year, but we want to do something else (to) kind of make it more pretty.”
Seasonality presents Joanne’s with unique challenges because the building is empty for months. Adkins points toward the entrance. “Those glass doors actually had been replaced three times,” she says. “They moved over here and had three or four break-ins.” She points to a set of plywood doors her father built on the outside. “It’s not the most beautiful look,” she remarks. “Ever since he boarded it up a little bit and put that lock on the door we haven’t had that problem anymore.”
Adkins indicated the improvements her family made to their building are an investment. “Upgrading different things will attract more people, because the traffic’s there,” she says. “You have to spend money to attract different audiences.”