There is more to the city’s plan to build a public works building and warehouse a few blocks west of Galveston’s traditional downtown than immediately meets the eye, as Mayor Jim Yarbrough said in a news story published Thursday.
On the surface, the project represents a substantial investment in public facilities meant to make the city operate more efficiently. On a deeper level, though, it’s another step in what could mean the transformation of Galveston’s most neglected and impoverished area.
People recently have been talking about the good things happening in “WeMa,” a nickname for West Market, the blocks of that downtown street west of about 25th Street.
In recent years, new developments have spurred interest and investment in the area. Those developments include The Cedars at Carver Park at 29th and Ball streets, one of two mixed-income housing developments in the city. Also, a new restaurant and popular bar moved in near 27th and Market streets, just a few blocks from where the public works building will be built.
When people talk about WeMa, though, they also are talking about the eastern edge of what islanders have called North of Broadway for decades. The term has been a code or a shorthand description of an area marked by concentrated poverty, with more than its share of neglected structures.
While it’s one of the city’s most neglected areas, it’s also an area with very high potential for renewal, because it’s behind the seawall and because land is available there.
We know from past interviews that Yarbrough has a vision for transforming the area North of Broadway through public investment that he believes will attract greater private investment.
And the mayor reiterated that in the recent article.
“It’s a city priority to strengthen the redevelopment North of Broadway,” Yarbrough said.
“It’s an area of town that historically has not had a lot of city investment. But common sense and history shows if you bring a concentration of people to work in an area, they need services — restaurants, a convenient store, a shoe shop. Businesses come in to meet that need.”
Work on the $10.8 million public works building and warehouse will begin this month, which is shortly after the Galveston Finance Corp. announced it was building five houses to be sold at below-market prices.
The homes being built near 34th and Winnie streets in Galveston are part of a wider plan Galveston housing officials also hope will revitalize neighborhoods North of Broadway.
“We want to create a neighborhood feel here,” said Patricia Bolton-Legg, president for the corporation’s board.
“When you have a neighborhood, it creates other benefits; there’s less crime and people look out for each other.”
As real estate prices on the island climb, the addition of moderately priced homes could help encourage some public-sector workers, such as police officers and teachers, for instance, to move to the island where they work, Bolton-Legg said.
Once built, the homes will be eligible for sale to families with a household income between $31,746 and $57,200 annually, according to the corporation. The families had not yet been selected, she said.
Taken together, and with the major federal investment in The Cedars at Carver Park mixed-income development, these projects represent far more than their individual effects.
What we could be seeing is real progress in an area that has been neglected and has lagged behind for decades.
• Michael A. Smith