Helping Van Horn turn a pretty profit

VHEDC to redevelop parking lot | The aim is to expand and improve public spaces in the downtown area.  (VHA-Photo/DB)
VHEDC to redevelop parking lot | The aim is to expand and improve public spaces in the downtown area. (VHA-Photo/DB)

By Shanna Cummings

Increased Covid vaccination rates and an urge to travel and explore after the pandemic shutdowns may encourage travelers to venture into small towns like Van Horn along the way. As the Crossroads of the Texas Mountain Trail, what does Van Horn have to offer travelers and potential new businesses while improving the quality of life for current and possible future residents?

The Van Horn Economic Development Corporation (EDC) discussed options and focus projects during the March regular meeting and separate strategy session. The EDC’s goal is to encourage business in and attract business to Van Horn, which includes creating an environment potential business owners, customers and residents would enjoy while preserving the town’s unique culture. This consists of the downtown beautification process currently underway.

Van Horn EDC’s current impact project is revamping the downtown parking lot next to El Capitan Hotel, working with David Holguin of EPG Planning Consultants, to make it more accessible, visible, and inviting. Designs will also highlight the Postbox to Space, which Van Horn school welding students are currently building out of space-flown rocket parts donated by Blue Origin. The EDC is considering creating a marker on Google Maps to draw attention to the Postbox once completed and installed, similar to the Prada Marfa installation outside Valentine.

Through the beautification projects, the EDC hopes to entice weary travelers stopping at the truck stops, hotels and fast food venues along I-10 into the town proper by offering them space to stretch their legs and explore what the town has to offer. The Postbox to Space, once completed, will provide one opportunity – sending and receiving your own space-flown postcard, care of the Blue Origin New Shepard rocket. Local businesses will also have the option to sell or offer merchandise associated with the Postbox, like special postcards. 

The parking lot project is in its planning and exploration phases, identifying problems in the current parking lot design and considering design elements that encourage further exploration of the town. The lot rarely sees use, as guests at El Capitan Hotel next door don’t feel comfortable parking there, and the area offers little to encourage visitors or residents to explore. 

A larger downtown facelift plan includes a more extensive area incorporating the blocks around downtown in future phases. During the EDC’s March 25 strategy session, urban designer Dave Holguin mentioned design elements like incorporating trees in sidewalks to provide natural shade, which will encourage pedestrian sidewalk traffic.

The larger process of updating Broadway includes addressing other design issues, like the lamps, some of which don’t work anymore, as well as the multiple empty buildings, lots and storefronts. Overall, the EDC wants to create a cleaner, cohesive and inviting appearance along Van Horn’s main street. Members have discussed urging city councilmembers to update ordinances to include guidelines about standard building features and materials.

However, while the EDC can work toward improving the town’s visual appeal on city and EDC-owned land, members reiterated that business owners are responsible for improving and maintaining the appearance of their own property. As an incentive for current and potential Broadway businesses to update their curb appeal, the EDC offers a matching grant up to $3,000 for business façade improvements. For details, visit the Van Horn EDC website at www.vanhorntexas.org/2170/Economic-Development-Center.

Economic development in town meets a barrier with the city water moratorium, which doesn’t allow for certain new commercial development in town. Van Horn’s old and failing water infrastructure, currently subject of an engineering study, cannot sustain the town’s growth and requires significant overhaul. The city is currently awaiting notice of grant money intended for water and sewer infrastructure improvements. Some potential businesses like a Family Dollar are considering already-developed land with existing water lines in the meantime.

Helping bring Van Horn back to life requires a lot of planning. The six-person volunteer EDC board has decided to seek out and hire a part-time employee to help implement plans and projects more effectively. The board is currently drafting the job description, and will advertise in the Van Horn Advocate, as well as the Town of Van Horn website and social media once the position is open.