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Projects breathe new life into downtown Victoria (Video)

By ALLISON MILES
Jan. 5, 2013 at 10:04 p.m.
Updated Jan. 4, 2013 at 7:05 p.m.

Standing in a gutted downtown building on South Main Street, Torin Bales has in his possession an architectural drawing by the son of Jules Leffland, a prominent architect in the mid-1880s. Some of the details from the drawing will come to life on Bales' project.

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For more information about the Victoria Main Street Program, visit www.victoriamainstreet.com.

With the empty interior, ongoing mezzanine repairs and variety of paint colors adorning the walls, the building at 212 S. Main St. might not look inviting now. But give it some time, and Torin Bales hopes to change all that.

The plan is to transform the 8,000-square-foot space into a restaurant or reception venue - something new to draw people in.

"A lot of people would look at this and think I'm crazy," he said, glancing around the former department store that sat empty for 25 or 30 years. "But I can look past the roughness of it and see the beauty."

The ongoing project is one of several upgrades taking place in downtown Victoria.

Bales first made his mark on downtown last year, when he renovated the Santa Rosa Street building that later became Steve-A-Reno's Rock 'N' Roll Blues Bar. With two projects in the works - the Main Street site and a William Street building he hopes to transform into retail and corporate rental space - he plans to restore the places' historic feel and offer more reasons to be in that part of the city.

"I love downtown," Bales said. "I've been here 19 years now, and it's the first thing I fell in love with."

Others, too, are doing their part to leave their mark.

Robby and Tami Burdge purchased the former Wells Fargo drive-thru bank at 101 S. William St. with plans to open New York-style lofts with an open, eclectic feel.

Although still in the planning stages, Robby Burdge said the goal is to offer affordable housing that appeals to everyone from young professionals to retirees.

He said he was proud of the work already done on that section of town, but said he hoped others found inspiration, too.

The more people who realize just how much a downtown affects the entire city, the more they will be willing to invest their time and money to preserve and improve it, he said.

"I believe that the heartbeat of any city is its downtown," Burdge said.

Several blocks away and many stories higher off the ground, another renovation continues.

Progress is under way at the top of One O'Connor Plaza, where husband-wife team Dennis Patillo and Louise Hull Patillo are working to usher in a new steakhouse. The process is moving forward, Hull Patillo said, and plans call for the restaurant to open this spring.

As past president of the Victoria Main Street Program and a current board member, she said she enjoyed the ongoing changes she sees taking place.

The city jump-started that change with paving projects and the like, she said, while becoming a Main Street city was another step. Now the upgrades show things are moving the right direction.

"It's not changing as rapidly as I would like, but it is changing, and it's exciting," she said.

Sara Rodriguez, executive director of the Victoria Main Street Program, agreed the changes were promising. She said she hopes to see the pattern continue and to see the area's businesses benefit from one another.

If someone ventures in for a museum, for instance, they might go out for dinner or drinks afterward.

"I think this is only going to help us increase the number of people we can get down here," she said. "We've got some great establishments as it is and having more will only help."

As for Bales, he said the coming months mean plenty of hard yet rewarding work.

He hopes to have both building facades complete by March or April and continue from there.

Whatever happens, he said, things are looking up.

"Now, when people go out you'll hear them say, 'Let's go downtown,'" he said, noting there are a variety of restaurants, museums and bars to choose from. "Five, 10 years ago you didn't hear that. It's fantastic."

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