Jack Tar building could be torn down
An update of the city of Orange’s downtown master plan, slightly scaled back area-wise but with new details on an entertainment pavilion, senior center and housing opportunities, was presented Tuesday by architects Jeffrey Carbo and Shannon Blakeman.

Two years ago the design included revitalization from First to Ninth streets, and from Green Avenue to the Sabine River. And while the Green/Sabine borders remain, the east/west area has been moved back to Second Street. 

Mayor Brown Claybar said that was because the city, Stark Foundation and Lamar-Orange – the three principal sponsors of the plan – want to concentrate on “what’s doable,” a phrase he used several times Tuesday.

The previous plan did not call to demolish the vacant Jack Tar Hotel building, last used as a nursing home. Carbo said Tuesday he saw it as detrimental to the ultimate goal of connecting the three major downtown areas – the park, river and Lamar-Orange.

One advantage, he said, is that the city now has hurricane damage reimbursements and government stimulus funds to work with.

Overall costs are still unknown, he said, adding that some $1.7 million had been earmarked for a senior center that would include a Meals on Wheels program.

“It is important to work with existing assets,” Claybar said, with the most vital being the river. The downtown Stark properties should also be utilized, he said.

“What we are looking at is what is realistic for a small town such as Orange, and what has worked well with other small towns … [and what] our money can benefit,” he said.

The city hall building would likely be left alone, although Carbo said “taking down” the old jail and Convention and Visitors’ Bureau building would help open up that area. 

Trees grown over the years would line many of the streets, parks and business zones, he said, point being not to crowd things out but to address weather concerns. 

“We realize it gets hot in Orange, Texas,” he said.

Tuesday’s overall view calls for a “corner plaza” near the pavilion (close to the Lutcher Theater), taking advantage of the nearby streets and a plan that would ultimately connect the three downtown areas with walking paths, parks and other attractions. 

Retail businesses would be welcome, Carbo said, adding it was also important that people live downtown to make the area attractive after business hours. For that, he proposed several affordable housing units be built.

Blakeman recalled, “In my hometown of Lafayette, La., when I was growing up, you didn’t go downtown. You might work downtown, but at 5 o’clock you were gone. Now that area has something going on 24 hours a day because [the people wanted it] … But it didn’t happen overnight.”

In response to a question about attracting businesses, residents and the present bleak state of downtown, Claybar admitted that the old phase of “If you build it, they will come,” may not always apply. However, he argued that by laying a foundation and with successful promotion of the area, “ … somebody might just look at what we have to offer and say, ‘You know, I might be able to make a buck there.’”

Carbo and Blakeman are based in Alexandria, La. Their firm has worked on similar revitalization projects with the cities of Natchitoches, La., and pre-Hurricane Ike Galveston, among others. The firm also did landscaping for Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center. 

The Carbo organization was assigned the master plan by the city after earlier work by the Dallas-based Mesa Design Group.