New plans adopted for downtown development
People in downtown Orange could stroll down a tree-lined street and watch the sun sparkle off the Sabine River as a band with singers performed a concert.
Children might play Frisbee in the grassy park or tourists could wander along a boardwalk hugging the banks of the Sabine as they learn some of the town’s long history.
Now, after a few false starts and a some hurricanes, the Orange City Council is ready to move on getting a downtown development project built.
The design has changed once more, even since the spring, because the city bought the old Jack Tar (also known as the Orange House) Hotel this summer.
The hotel has been vacant for nearly five years and severely damaged by hurricanes Rita and Ike. The city has already awarded a contract to demolish the dilapidated building. The demolition should begin in a few weeks.
Last week, Jeffrey Carbo Landscape Architects of Alexandria, La., presented a new downtown master plan that has the old hotel site as one of the centers of activity. Carbo, who has designed other plans, told city council the plans drastically changed when the city got the old hotel property that is on the river.
The new plan calls for a landscaped riverfront park at the hotel site complete with an outdoor performance theater. Previously, the performance pavilion was planned for the vacant lot between Main and Front, behind City Hall. The plans also included tearing down the old city jail, that was originally the garage and servant quarters for the red brick mansion that has served as City Hall for some 65 years.
The planned riverfront park will also be across the street from the city’s new Senior Citizen Center-Meals on Wheels building. That building will be on the north lot of Division Avenue, between Fifth and Sixth Street. The lot served as the Jack Tar’s parking lot and before that, was the Holland Hotel, built in the early 1900s.
The city has received a hurricane recovery grant to pay for the Senior Citizen Center and the Studio Red Architects firm of Houston has already designed the building. However, the city hasn’t advertised for construction bids, yet.
Carbo’s plan calls for special paving of Fifth Street and trees to line the sides. He said riverfront park could be a focal point down the street and travelers on Green Avenue will be able to look down to see the park.
Also in the plans is for an expanded riverwalk-boardwalk. In 1986 for the Texas Sesquicentennial, the community and city built a riverwalk with commemorative bricks that individuals or companies bought. The riverwalk is in the Ochiltree-Inman Park along Front Street, across from Lamar State College-Orange. The riverwalk never went further because of property ownership issues.
Now, the plans call for a riverwalk to go from Ochiltree-Inman Park west and south along the curve of the river. C. Delle Bates and the Stark Foundation own the land now and are working with the city in the downtown project.
Carbo said eventually, the riverfront walk could include piers for tying up boats or for fishing.
He said the commemorative bricks can be used for the new riverwalk.
Carbo’s company has designed plans for other cities, including historic Natchitoches, Louisiana, which also has a riverfront district.
The Stark Foundation and Lamar State College-Orange have also been involved in the downtown project. Both have hired the Carbo landscape firm to design a unified plan for downtown. Leaders of both those groups have been present at all the different downtown design presentations.
Carbo said not many small towns have a downtown with such cultural and educational facilities, especially like the Luther Theater for the Performing Arts and the Stark Museum of Art.
The costs of the riverfront park with performance pavilion, along with the boardwalk could run up to $7.5 million. Orange City Council was meeting Tuesday evening with the City of Orange Economic Development Corporation to discuss what aspects of the project should be done first, and how they can be paid for.
City documents included a study to issue $6.5 million in bonds to be paid back over twenty years. The bond payments could come from a couple of city finance sources, the hotel-motel occupancy tax paid by people staying in the local hotels and the city’s special economic development sales tax that was approved by the voters in a special election nearly ten years ago.