The city of Galveston spent more than $110,000 on a plan to improve Broadway, but some have questioned whether the consultants charged with guiding the plan delivered what they were paid to do. Some critics say no, but city officials say yes, while conceding there’s more work to do.
Improving Broadway is a perennial topic about which agreement rarely can be found. But $110,000 later, everyone concurs there are still no immediate answers to the question of how to make the island’s main boulevard more attractive.
Urban design firm Design Workshop made its final presentation Nov. 29 to the Broadway Ad Hoc Committee. Instead of signing off on the project, committee members called for another meeting planned for Wednesday and said the plan might need months more to be developed.
Some committee members left frustrated, asking why the presentation seemed to focus on Broadway’s streetscape instead of the buildings.
“What irritated me on seeing this presentation is it focused so much on trolleys, bike routes, landscaping, whereas when I thought when this task force initiated this study, it was to create the building design guidelines,” architect and committee member David Watson said at the meeting. “I don’t see any of that yet.”
Committee Chairwoman Betty Massey said the committee will likely need to cross-check that what it’s asking for is in fact what the city asked Design Workshop for in its “request for proposal,” or RFP.
“It would be really helpful for the productivity of the meeting by making certain that the committee’s expectations align with the expectations put forth in the RFP,” Massey said. “Maybe we can find a little bit different approach once we’re sure our expectations are the same.”
Employees at Design Workshop’s Houston office didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.
At the Wednesday meeting, project manager Tarana Hafiz said Design Workshop set out originally to focus more on streetscape development. She said the group would be happy to continue with the project, however, and wants to see it “to the end.”
WHAT’S IN THE RFP?
The city’s call for bids asked the consultant to “prepare a streetscape plan for the Broadway Corridor public realm, and a revitalization/redevelopment plan for the adjacent properties described.”
The proposal asked the consultant to make a plan that would enhance the visual appearance of the corridor, assess appropriate land uses on the street, find programs to encourage improvement of existing buildings, develop streetscape improvements, make opportunities for public art and address transportation issues.
Design Workshop’s proposed plan created five different “character zones” along Broadway, each with different design guidelines.
Along Broadway, taller buildings would be allowed closest to the causeway and allowed heights would decrease moving east, according to the proposal. Industrial and big box stores would be more suited for the west side of Broadway, and areas would become mixed-use and then residential farther east, the presentation showed.
Many of the curbs would also have larger required setbacks in order to create more space for cafe and retail walking fronts, according to the presentation.
Transportation was a major highlight in the presentation. Design Workshop recommended a “road diet,” meaning it would narrow street lanes along Broadway to slow traffic. The group also recommended bike lanes along Broadway and left turn lanes.
Design Workshop suggested mostly rear and on-street parking along Broadway, with only the areas from the causeway to 43rd Street being able to use front-lot parking.
One of the firm’s biggest suggestions at the meeting was the creation of a walking trail along the Broadway median by 2022. Design Workshop suggested replacing it with a trolley track by 2030.
The walking trail would be created by extending the medians farther out into intersections to allow more space for people to stand while they’re waiting to cross the street, Hafiz said.
Committee members struck down the trolley idea, in part because of the trees already in the median and because it’s unclear how ridership would fare.
A COMPLICATED ISSUE
Did Design Workshop deliver what the city asked it to?
“I believe yes,” City Manager Brian Maxwell said. “We asked them to go out and seek input and condense it into a plan. That they’ve done.”
But Broadway is too complicated of an issue to satisfy everyone, he said.
“I think the issue is a lot of the input they got is not what everybody wants,” Maxwell said.
Design Workshop’s bid emphasized a master plan for the Broadway corridor, stretching out 25 years.
“We will work to develop a comprehensive corridor vision, clearly define a public outreach strategy, render scenarios for land-use distribution and changes to the transportation systems, create a market-based economic impact study, outline infrastructure needs, recommend standards for implementation and determine funding mechanisms necessary for implementation,” the application states.
Efforts to improve Broadway have spanned decades and have been controversial at times. Over the years, the city has worked on a series of plans to beautify Broadway, and the latest effort is one to tweak the most recent beautification plan, which passed in 2015.
The council wasn’t entirely satisfied with the plan and formed the Broadway Ad Hoc Committee in 2016 to change the parts it didn’t like. The committee in January suggested hiring an independent consultant and called for a moratorium on most construction while the consultant formed a streetscape and redevelopment plan.
‘A PRETTY PICTURE’
The moratorium, approved in May, was controversial among current and prospective Broadway business owners, who claimed the city was prohibiting development. The moratorium lasted six months and is now over.
Maxwell said he feels Design Workshop needs to bring back a plan that shows the immediate need of cleaning up Broadway in the short-term, a more midrange need that helps businesses and residences enhance their stores without financial burdens, and a long-term plan that focuses more on things such as transportation and streetscapes.
“It’s a pretty picture, what they did; it’s probably something any city would want to be able to do,” Maxwell said. “None if it’s a bad idea. How much of it is feasible short-term or long-term?”
Carolyn Lundy, a Galveston resident who lives on Broadway, said the long-term improvements are exciting and worth pursuing.
“I want to return to the old grandeur,” Lundy said. “This is a tourist town. Why don’t we act like it?”
The city can extend its contract with Design Workshop up to six months, according to the contract. Design Workshop should eventually fulfill what the RFP asked it to do, Massey said.
“I think they will,” Massey said. “Whether it’s a finished product at this point or not, I think they will.”