Downtown business owners discuss sidewalk dilemma


The sidewalks in Downtown Wichita Falls are an issue many downtown business owners are worried about. Many have said the trees are the root of the problem.

Karen Montgomery-Gagné, with the Wichita Falls Planning Administration, said if a business owner wants to cut down a tree that is in front of their store or restaurant they need permission.

Plus, the cost to repair the sidewalks also falls under the business owners list of responsibilities. Something many do not agree with, like Debbie Schwartz, owner of Red Threads Embroidery.

Red Threads has called Indiana Avenue its home for 15 years.

Schwartz said within that time she has seen the sidewalks become a big problem.

"The sidewalks are so uneven that I am not sure you could get a wheel chair or a stroller down without some trouble," said Schwartz. "People trip all the time, I've seen them."

Last Thursday at a downtown merchant meeting Chef Erik Scott, owner of the Highlander Public House, stressed the importance of making downtown walkable and family friendly.

"If they can't roll their stroller properly or if they have to go into the street to avoid them, that's going to make them think twice next time," said Chef Scott.

He said even if they love downtown but feel it is hard to walk around, they might have a change of heart when it comes to visiting. He said this is a concern.

Schwartz too is worried the downtown sidewalk dilemma could also keep new businesses from moving in.

"It reflects on the building to me if the sidewalks and the streets aren't maintained," said Schwartz. "Then you know people are going to go oh well, I don't guess they take care of Wichita Falls."

As of now, it is the building owners responsibility to maintain those sidewalks. Schwartz said with this being the case she does not believe all of the sidewalks will get fixed.

She adds if the building owner is responsible for the sidewalks then they should be able to do what they want to do with the trees.

"You can't fix the sidewalks without the trees being gone," said Schwartz."I am out here every day, and I've watched them slowly just break apart, and it's all due to the tree roots."

A closer look at the Wichita Falls City Ordinance 94-8 shows it is illegal to remove any tree, shrub or bush from a public right away, like a street, alley or curb, without approval from the city.

Karen Montgomery-Gagné said, "As the City and community move forward with downtown revitalization, the issue of trees will be reviewed."

Wichita Falls Mayor Stephen Santellana said if it looks like the city is going to do a matching grant for sidewalk repairs, it will be for downtown because that is the area they are focused on right now.

He adds at this time the 4B Sales Tax Corporation's $5,000 matching grant offered to downtown business owners for building improvements cannot be used for the sidewalks. However, he adds that could be considered soon.

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