Orange plans for downtown development
Historic downtown Orange can be developed into a “place that attracts people” with businesses, shops, restaurants and public parks, planner Jeffrey Carbo, a landscape architect, told city officials this past week. Carbo and his company finished a master plan for downtown to take advantage of the Sabine River and other landmarks in the city with “a reconnection to the river.” “I’ve never seen a group of people committed to a common goal,” Carbo said about citizens, city officials and the officers of the Stark Foundation. Carbo presented the master plan to a group of about 100 people, including the Orange City Council, City of Orange Economic Development Corporation, Orange Planning and Zoning Commission, and the Stark Foundation. “A master plan is a vision,” Carbo told the group. He said the city and foundation already agreed to work together to build an outdoor entertainment pavilion near the Lutcher Theater as a place for concerts and presentations. The target area for development is from the river north to Green Avenue, and from First Street west to Ninth Street. Carbo said successful historic revitalization projects include Natchitoches, La.; Fairhope, Ala.; Charlotte, S.C.; Grapevine, Texas; and Galveston. The project will take seven to 10 years to develop and as the historic area draws more people, private investors will be attracted, Carbo said. He envisions downtown as a “viable, livable, walkable” area. The plan has the restoration of old, historic buildings as shops, offices and even apartments. New buildings designed to look old can be built on vacant space. Mayor Brown Claybar said a new plan “had to be doable and not a pie in the sky.” Carbo’s plan has an expanded river walk and more “green spaces” of grass and gardens around downtown. He also suggested the city build a water feature like a fountain plaza where children and families can play in the water. Cities are building more of the play fountains than swimming pools these days, he said. Downtown Orange is accessible, “very easy to get to and to leave from,” he said. Already, downtown is the governmental center of the county, plus it is an education center with Lamar State College-Orange, and a cultural center with the Lutcher Theater, Stark Museum of Art, Stark House, Heritage House Museum and Orange Community Players. In addition, downtown has several historic churches with dedicated congregations, he said. Having community events like the recent Christmas in the Park is a way to draw people downtown, he said. “You can always take a look at the health of the community by looking at the downtown,” Carbo said. As downtown develops and grows, Carbo envisions a developer putting in a “boutique” hotel with 60 to 80 rooms along the river at the old Jack Tar Hotel. Phase 1 of the plan should take about three years, and Phase 2, to include a boardwalk along the river, will take three to six years. Phase 3 will be six to 10 years. “We think it’s doable. We think it can happen,” Carbo said.