ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Downtown Abilene businesses could be getting a major financial boost for façade improvements from the City of Abilene, matching grants up to $15,000. However, it’s up to City Council to extend the life of those funds and programming.
It’s been a focal point for the City of Abilene to renovate, revitalize and create a thriving downtown atmosphere in town. With the Paramount Theatre, the SoDA District, tons of restaurants and a new hotel being built, it’s a great place to start. But what about the “historic” aspects of downtown?
Walking the streets, you may come across some older-looking architecture, like the building housing Texas Star Trading Company. It’s a uniquely designed building, much like others along Cypress and Second Streets.
But as you walk underneath the Texas flags by the store, you’ll walk up to a dark red and black brick building. That’s the Cockerell Building, which houses storefronts and art galleries on the second floor.
Looking above the first floor, you’ll see old Victorian-style window designs surrounded by white diamonds along the second floor and etched into the concrete that lines the rooftop.
All of those designs were parts of the original building, built in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. However, the building itself has seen several different looks over the years.
“In the 70’s they did a lot of covering up of old buildings,” Co-owner of the Cockerell Building, Eddy Cockerell said. “My dad and I began talking about it, and decided to try remodeling it back to its old glory, which was done back in the 1800s.”
The transformation was incredible. From the red bricks and Victorian-style windows to large, teal blue glass panels that lined the façade of the second floor in the 1970s, its look changed drastically over the years.
Cockerell said his family, four generations of Abilenians, acquired the building in the 1970s and became a staple downtown.
“We are proud of that. We wanted to go back to the way it looked, to add some historic value to the downtown as we begin to change down here,” Cockerell said. “And after my father passed, my mother wanted to get this thing done in his honor so we reached out to the city for help with this grant.”
Specifically, the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) Façade Improvement Assistance Grant. The façade improvement grant program is offered by the city to help businesses with the TIRZ boundaries (North 10th to South 7th, and Treadaway to Butternut) create a revitalized area for their historic buildings. The other, the TIRZ demolition assistance grant program, which city officials said was not as popular of an option.
Currently, each program offers a 50-50 matching grant for businesses who qualify, offering up to $10,000 in funds to renovate the facade of their business. However, Director of Planning and Development Services Timothy Littlejohn said his group plans to go before City Council to ask for a merger of the two grant programs.
Combining the two programs would allow a larger pool of money for which businesses to apply, according to Littlejohn. That money comes from the excess tax rates in the TIRZ district, with excess going into the program funds later to be used for renovations or demolitions. If approved, Littlejohn said they would be able to offer a matching grant up to $15,000. Meaning a business could apply and commit to paying for a $30,000 renovation project and only pay half the cost.
Cockerell said he was able to apply and qualified for financial assistance in 2019, allowing them to fulfill his father’s wishes of recreating the original look and feel of the building. He said he recommends it to any business in need of the assistance, because not only does it help their business, but also is right in line with the city’s revitalization efforts.
“I would just simply say, ‘reach out to the city.’ They want to partner with you and they want to breathe life back into these old buildings downtown,” Cockerell explained.
Not only did Cockerell fulfill his father’s dream, but he also was able to keep memories of the childhood building he grew up playing in. He took KTAB/KRBC into a storage office, where almost 10 of the teal blue glass panels that lined the façade of the building laid up against the wall, bringing history back to the present but also keeping close memories, as well.
Littlejohn said any business within the TIRZ designation is able to apply for the grant funding through the Planning and Development Services website.
While a merger is being proposed between the grant programs, Littlejohn also said they’re asking for a renewal of funding. If City Council elects to not renew the programs, the excess money will sit stagnant until a new renewal is initiated.