Tourism experts offer advice to Victoria (video)

As a part of the Victoria Main Street Program, 10 people from the historical commission have been in town for three days, looking around downtown Victoria and determining where the city can make improvements.Teresa Caldwell, with the Texas Historical Commission and Texas Heritage Trails Program, talks about improvements downtown Victoria can make to attract tourist to the area.

If you want to attract people to visit downtown, you have to let them know it's there, Paul Anderson said.

"The worst thing the movie 'Field of Dreams' did is convince people that, 'If you build it, they will come,'" he said. "The message has to get out."

Anderson was among a group of 10 Texas Main Street Program representatives who spoke Thursday, offering recommendations for the Victoria program.

The resource team visited Victoria Tuesday through Thursday, touring the area, speaking with residents and developing plans to improve the downtown area.

Although they made preliminary suggestions, they will compile a more thorough report within the next 60 days or so and present those findings, said Debra Farst, the program's state coordinator.

Anderson, president of the Longview Chamber of Commerce, discussed his own city's experiences with Main Street and encouraged those present to get word out about what they're doing through news releases, local events and even social media.

Teresa Caldwell, with the Texas Historical Commission's Texas Heritage Trails Program, encouraged the city to cater to heritage tourism.

Heritage tourists enjoy bed-and-breakfasts, family-owned restaurants and shopping at places that give them a real feel for the area, she said. They also tend to spend more money and stay longer than other tourists.

Caldwell encouraged Victoria to increase evening entertainment options and encouraged businesses to remain open regular hours.

Signage, too, is important, she said, noting she's visited downtown Victoria numerous times and finally has the route down.

"You may think it's easy, but it's really not," she said. "If your visitors can't find your downtown, they're not going to come there."

Molly Alexander, of the Downtown Austin Alliance, suggested ways to restructure the downtown region while boosting the economy.

She said people she spoke with discussed issues such as a lack of night and weekend options, concerns about law offices occupying first-floor offices and ambitions for local theater-goers to "spill into the streets."

Among other things, Alexander's suggestions included bringing chairs and couches into Theatre Victoria for second-run movies, rolling out sidewalk dining after 5 p.m. and transforming the City Hall courtyard into a place for people to visit and eat.

"People want an engaging experience," she said.

Louise Hull Patillo, chairwoman of the Victoria Main Street board, said she enjoyed visiting with the historical commission representatives and thought they had promising ideas.

The hardest part is patience, she said, and not trying to accomplish it all overnight.

"I know these are things that will happen one building or business at a time," she said. "But they've given us enough ideas to last 10 years."

Victoria Mayor Will Armstrong, who jotted notes during Thursday's presentation, said he planned to relay ideas to City Council members. He said he's been excited about the city's downtown for years and looked forward to upcoming changes.

"We haven't reached our full potential," he said, "but we're on the road to more success."