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Saturday, July 1st, 2017

Mayor: Merchants determine own destiny

Celina has 13 vacant storefronts

By William Kincaid
CELINA - The destiny of Celina's downtown economy is in the hands of its merchants and property owners, mayor Jeff Hazel said this week while addressing Grand Lake Rotarians.
Earlier this week, the newspaper ran a story about the empty downtown storefronts. Hazel on Thursday confirmed there are currently 13 "open spots."
He attributed the spate of vacancies in part to a natural economic cycle.
"You know what? Celina has been so fortunate for years in only having one, two, maybe three (vacancies) and it's cyclic in every small town throughout the country. And we know that," Hazel told Rotarians, many of them business owners and professionals.
Hazel said merchants must make their businesses unique destinations to draw in customers.
"If you're not a destination it's your own issue. You have to serve something unique," he said. "Maybe it's your service. Maybe it's your product. Maybe it's the way you do things. Maybe it's your hours. You have to be a destination. You can't rely on somebody else to do it."
Some in the downtown are concerned about declining traffic, he said.
"But what are we doing collectively to come together to say what kind of businesses do we want downtown?" he asked.
Downtowns in small cities are not retail meccas, Hazel said. But what does flourish in such areas, he pointed out, are unique specialty shops and boutiques.
"I'm here to tell you Walmart never puts anybody out of business," Hazel said, adding that representatives there will direct customers to local businesses for more specialized items.
The city is not a leasing agent and doesn't own the 13 downtown vacant storefront buildings, he said.
"But we connect a lot of folks with interest to the building owners and it's up to the building owners to do something," he said.
Celina has no rent-control districts, and it's up to property owners to determine a lease price and make improvements to their buildings, Hazel said.
But city officials, he added, can encourage building upgrades.
"We went through two different rounds of downtown revitalization. It's about $800,000 between the two grants. There was a lot of work done downtown," he said.
Under the Community Development Block Grant for downtown revitalization, property owners were eligible to receive a 50 percent matching grant up to $15,000 per building for renovations.
The city is not currently eligible for a third round of funding, he said.
Hazel also pointed to the "several million dollars spent in the downtown over the last eight to 10 years." One the big investments was the $3.619 million Main Street reconstruction project completed in 2011, with the city's share ending up at $1.25 million.
"We're getting ready to redo all these specialized crosswalks that are in there to ... freshen that up," he said. "The lighting's not an issue. Sidewalks aren't an issue."
There are, however, empty buildings, Hazel said.
"I've got about three different people looking at doing some really unique things downtown right now to some of these businesses," he said. "I guess I'm not overly worried. I can't say that I'm not concerned about it."
The mayor also pointed to businesses such as C-Town Wings that moved out of the downtown to expand their operations elsewhere in Celina.
"Those are the success stories that typically people don't hear about," he said.
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