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Victoria can profit from being hub of history

By BY WILL ARMSTRONG
May 21, 2014 at 12:21 a.m.

Will Armstrong

A year ago this month, I left the City Council. Many thanks to the Advocate for letting me share some of my thoughts with you.

I believe that Mayor Paul Polasek and the council are doing a good job working together for our benefit. I am not inferring that they agree with each other every time, but there is respect for the process. They are working well with our professional team, who handle the day-to-day operations of the city.

The prevailing trend in the United States is that small, non-bedroom cities are withering. Usually, the withering is most obvious in the downtown area first. It has been said, "A city is like a person. When the heart dies, so does the person, and so goes a city when the downtown dies."

In the mid-'50s, Victoria's first shopping center opened, and most retail dollars moved out of downtown. In answer to the downtown plight, owners of Victoria Bank and Trust and First Victoria National Bank announced that they would stay downtown, and they remodeled and expanded. Near the same time period, local officials got bond elections passed for a new city hall, courthouse annex and public library. In the early '80s, the owners of Victoria Bank and Trust built One O'Connor Plaza and relocated. When oil hit rock bottom in the late '80s, the city purchased and remodeled the old Sears building, renaming it the 700 Building. These actions saved downtown Victoria.

It would have cost less money to build a new theater on open land, but generous visionaries knew their time and money would better serve our city if they invested in downtown Victoria. Dunlaps became the Leo J. Welder Center for the Performing Arts.

Recently, the city spent money installing pavers on part of the downtown sidewalks. The city's investment prompted a citizens group led by Louise Patillo to raise money for trees to be added to the paver project. Visionary people and investment dollars have worked to make Victoria a special place.

San Antonio has always had the Alamo, and it has the River Walk. I would never think that the city of San Antonio would ignore its history and fail to maximize the fact that it has the Alamo and the River Walk.

We have valuable assets, including the Museum of the Coastal Bend at Victoria College, Victoria's Main Street, County Courthouse, DeLeon Plaza and historic homes in old Victoria, plus the Nave Art Museum, Riverside Park, The Texas Zoo, the canoe trail, three golf courses and many ballfields. We also have more than 1,800 hotel rooms and restaurants already built. Victoria is the hub for the Fannin Battleground, Goliad's La Bahia and State Park and Cuero's Chisholm Trail Museum.

No operation can succeed without good management. I have utmost respect for LaRue Roth, head of the Visitor's Bureau, and O.C. Garza, who is in charge of communications. Seeing them run Bootfest tells me we already have all the management needed for a successful new venture.

Recognition must be given to the fact that cellphones and computers are often used in making travel plans. Our present staff has successfully embraced this technology to the fullest extent, but nothing will ever take the place of greeting a visitor with a warm smile.

Building a freestanding visitor's center is a conspicuous declaration of confidence in Victoria's future and what we have to offer the world. Without it, we are far from maximizing the benefits that our community could gain.

We invested in pavers and trees on Main Street, and it changed the way people think about downtown. Smart business people realize that it is necessary to invest money to make money. If we invest some of the visitors tax to build a freestanding visitors center, we could use our assets and those in Cuero and Goliad to their maximum. By selling the idea of Victoria being the hub of history, we would bring in more visitors and create jobs for our citizens. This influx would bring additional visitor's tax money that could be used by the nonprofits. By law, the visitor's tax cannot be added to the general fund for other projects.

The Chamber of Commerce and the Victoria Economic Development Corp. were founded by people who were driven with a desire to create a prosperous economy. If the present-day goals of the chamber and VEDC are now the same as the founders envisioned, it would be a mistake not to encourage the City Council to maximize an effort in building a tourist industry.

Victoria has its rich history, the assets mentioned above, the money from visitors' taxes and proven management all in place. Build and operate the Visitor's Bureau from a freestanding center, and "The best is yet to come."

Will Armstrong is a resident and former mayor of Victoria.

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