Mayor Craig Morgan writes a monthly column for the Round Rock Leader.
Many years ago, I was block walking in the Stone Oak subdivision in Northwest Round Rock. At the time, I was living in Southeast Round Rock. One resident told me, “It seems like you live so far from where I live – why can’t we have a downtown where we can meet and gather?”
Even as our city grows, Downtown serves as a reminder of what makes Round Rock unique. Whether it’s meeting friends over a relaxed meal, shopping or doing business with local entrepreneurs or making memories with our families, Downtown represents so many ways that we can stay connected as a community.
It’s been difficult this year to feel connected with our neighbors and friends in the traditional sense. When the COVID-19 pandemic first reached our community and business closures were implemented to slow the spread of the virus, I was sad to see so many open parking spaces in front of our Downtown businesses on my drive to City Hall. Some of our favorite Downtown events, such as Music on Main, were canceled earlier this year to slow the spread of the virus.
As we’ve navigated through this pandemic, we’ve found ways to incorporate safe ways to help residents enjoy the holidays. Christmas Family Night was canceled this year, but we put together our Light up the Lake event earlier this month, which allowed us to host an event at Old Settlers Park with better safety guidelines in place. We have been able to bring back our Hometown Holiday lights Downtown this holiday season and hope you take the chance to enjoy them. It’s hard to not feel the Christmas spirit as you take an outdoor stroll along the lit paths or take a drive to gaze at the decorations.
If you haven’t had a chance to visit Downtown Round Rock recently, you will be amazed at how much more work has been accomplished in just a short year. The City has completed six “parklets” on East Main Street between Mays Street and Sheppard Street, which include new trees, tables and chairs, additional landscaping, lighting elements and expanded walkable space for pedestrians. New lighting and sidewalks also provide pedestrians safer access to Main Street from some of our adjacent underutilized parking lots. A new electronic sign at the entry of the City Hall parking garage on Lampasas Avenue gives a real time view to visitors of how many spaces are available.
Getting our Downtown to where it is today has been a long-term undertaking. Fostering a vibrant, walkable Downtown for residents and visitors to gather has been a City Council strategic priority since 2007, and in 2010, that vision began to take shape with the approval of a Master Plan. This plan included extensive public input through surveys, interactive planning meetings and other feedback received from residents.
Just over the past decade, this planning process has resulted in Prete Main Street Plaza upgrades, Centennial Plaza, Round Rock Avenue and Mays Street streetscaping and the start of the Heritage Trail project. City buildings also received renovations, including the McConico Building, the Baca Senior and Community Center and the Intermodal Transit and Parking Facility. Private investments have brought us new eateries, offices, retail and more.
There are still many more projects in the pipeline to continue improving our Downtown district. One of our most exciting projects will be the new library at 200 East Liberty Ave., which will be approximately 66,000 square feet with an adjacent parking garage. In November 2013, a majority of voters approved bonds to build a new main library, which is set to open in 2023. With additional space and modernized features, the library will expand its core services and feature advanced technology.
We are working on even more improvements to support the future of Downtown. The Northeast Downtown Improvements Project will update segments of Lampasas, Sheppard, Liberty and Austin Avenues with new pavement, parking, sidewalks and lighting, with completion expected in early 2022. Although they are less visible, we expect to also address important infrastructure upgrades including wastewater and stormwater runoff throughout the project.
Progress is not slowing down anytime soon on Downtown, so it’s important we continue to support our local businesses while we wait for a COVID-19 vaccine. Our entire community is concerned about what the pandemic’s disruptions to business operations have meant for our local small businesses, and for the families of their employees. We are encouraging residents to step up and support our local businesses by shopping at home for the holidays, and I challenge you to find a way to support a Downtown business in the coming weeks. We have installed temporary curbside pickup signs in front of these restaurants and retail establishments so you can have your order delivered right to your car.
Christmas looks very different this year for a lot of us, but it’s important to still slow down and take stock of everything we miss in the hustle and bustle of daily life. By visiting Downtown Round Rock, you are sure to get that “right at home” feeling its known for, no matter which part of Round Rock you are from.