Good job

Steve Russell speaks in favor of the Rockport Center for the Arts’ (RCA) plans to move the Kline’s Cafe building to make more room for the RCA’s new downtown campus.

The meeting space in the temporary administrative offices for the Rockport Center for the Arts (RCA) at 638 E. Market St. was filled to capacity Thursday, Jan. 30 for a public input meeting regarding the RCA’s current plan to move the Kline’s Cafe Building (KCB). Moving KCB has been identified as the best option to maximize the use of the RCA’s downtown Rockport property, while at the same time preserving KCB.

The current plan calls for the KCB to be moved by RAM House Movers from its current location, to the southeast corner of the intersection of St. Mary’s and Magnolia streets, fronting on St. Mary’s.

Upside Ventures LLC’s Ron Meyeres, who has recently purchased several pieces of downtown Rockport property, will pay for the move in exchange for title to the KCB. Upside Ventures LLC owns the property on which it will be moved.

(Note: At a meeting in 2019, the original plan to demolish the KCB received serious negative reaction. The plan discussed at Thursday’s meeting was the fruit of that earlier negative response.)

RCA Executive Director Luis Purón opened the 90-minute session with a presentation about the history of the RCA’s new downtown campus.

He noted the RCA had started planning a future move from the Rockport Harborfront, to its new downtown property, when Hurricane Harvey made landfall.

The feasibility study for the capital campaign began Aug. 21, 2017. Four days later Hurricane Harvey hit.

The RCA home was destroyed by the storm, and it moved into the KCB in December 2017.

The capital campaign for a scaled down campus for the new downtown facility was officially launched in March 2018. Major donations, including a $5 million Economic Development Administration grant, allowed the RCA to expand the size of the downtown campus.

Richter Architects of Corpus Christi was retained as the project’s architect in summer/fall 2019.

A detailed feasibility study was completed in December 2019, which called for moving and saving the KCB. That plan was the subject of Thursday’s discussion.

Purón closed his opening comments saying, “The impact (of the RCA’s new downtown campus) on the economy, tourism, and the art community will be significant.”

David Richter of Richter Architects then addressed the feasibility study, during which the different options for the KCB were studied.

He noted by moving the KCB, the RCA would have substantially more space on which to position planned structures, more parking area, and additional room for the sculpture garden, not to mention better use of the property and a higher elevation for the KCB at its new location.

The only real plus for keeping the KCB at its current location, and building KCB’s new campus around it, would be keeping its historical integrity intact.

“(With this plan) you have the opportunity to utilize Kline’s better, and have better use of (RCA’s downtown) property,” said Richter.

Purón noted the back portion of the KCB would not be included in the move. It was added later to the building, as additional kitchen space.

RCA President Mary Hime said the new RCA downtown campus will be an economic anchor on Austin Street, which will spark development in the downtown area.

Meyeres spoke briefly about his recent involvement with several downtown properties, including his offer to pay for moving the KCB to one of his downtown properties.

“I hope to get this (plans for the RCA, including the move of the KCB) off the ground,” he said.

RAM House Movers’ Lilly Wilkinson said she has a lot of experience moving historic buildings, including many in Aransas County (i.e. – The Bruhl-Paul-Johnson House, which now houses the History Center for Aransas County).

“Kline’s is a concrete building,” she said. “We’re confident we can move it.

“The building will tell us what we need to do.

“We want to move it, not because we want to move it, but because we want to preserve it.”

Question and answer period

The floor was then opened for questions about the RCA’s plans.

Richter addressed a question about the planned three phases for construction of the downtown campus. He noted the original plan was to do the work in three phases, but the money is available, so the first two phases (the two buildings, including the administrative building / art gallery, and the performing arts / conference center) could be constructed at the same time. The third phase, the sculpture garden, would be completed last.

Purón and Richter addressed a question about the member’s gallery. Purón said the new member’s gallery and gift shop will be located in a much larger space than in the old RCA building.

“It will be prominently placed,” said Richter.

Richter also addressed concerns about the new campus’ effect on downtown flooding.

He said the property will remain at the current elevation, and only about 60 percent of the surface will be used for actual structures.

“We aren’t going to build any barriers,” said Richter.

In regard to parking issues, Long Term Recovery Team (LTRT) member Kim Foutz said the LTRT has applied for a GLO grant to add 85 parking spaces in the downtown area. The parking area’s location was not disclosed, since negotiations are ongoing.

It was noted there are currently 330 parking spaces in the downtown area.

Foutz said any new parking areas could be serviced by trolley if needed.

Public comments

All public comments were glowingly positive, except for one.

Richard Park complemented everyone involved for a job well done.

Aransas County Historical Society President Cheryl Livingston said her group voted unanimously to support RCA’s plans for its downtown campus, including moving the KCB. She cited many examples of historic structures that have been saved in the county because they were moved (i.e. – Stella Maris Chapel).

Famed local artist Steve Russell said the RCA started with a handful of people meeting in a living room.

“We were all in accord for a brief moment (when it all started),” he said. “This (plan for the RCA/KCB) looks like a really nice solution.”

He drew a big laugh from the crowd saying, “I have a chair Shorty Kline sat in and I’m willing to let it go for $30,000!”

He closed his comments saying, “I think it’s all gone in a wonderful direction.”

D’Ann Williams said she is glad there is a good solution, but wanted to make sure everyone understands the requirements the RCA will have to meet under the EDA grant. She cited a 20-year lien on the building, as well as requirements to pay for personnel to ensure requirements of the grant are met.

“I really think you need to think this EDA grant through,” she said.

Collin Jackson said the Aransas County Historical Commission is in full support of RCA’s new plans.

Monica Burdette, a Texas Historical Commission commissioner, said, “Last hearing we were here for different reasons (trying to save the KCB). Since then it’s been a win/win situation. I think this is the best thing that could have happened.”

Scott Hime encouraged anyone who opposes the new plan to air his or her concerns, but like in any democracy, get behind the plan once it is approved.

Jerry Brundrett noted the team put together to build the new downtown campus, and move the KCB, is an excellent one.

“Everyone who has lived here 50-plus years would love to see Kline’s Cafe open, Sue Kline serving food, and elected officials making decisions (but that’s not going to happen).

“I’m convinced this is the best plan.

“Where Kline’s is located now it’s almost uninsurable.

“By moving it we are helping to ensure its future.”

John Jackson said, “My dad and I opened Kline’s every morning for 17 years.

“You don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. “This (plan) is a no-brainer. If they can move Stella Maris (which is made out of shellcrete), they can move Kline’s.”

Anita Diebel said, “I’m excited about what’s happening in this room. What’s happening here is going to enable us to do so much for the art community. What we’re doing is not for today; it’s for the future.

“Memories are not mortar and stone, it’s head and heart.

“The art community is going to explode.”

Former RCA Chairman Hugh Morrison said he has been “hip deep” in all this planning for the past four years.

“Thanks for all the support, even though we made some mistakes,” he noted.

“This new art center is going to be a significant thing for our community.”

Jatin Bhakta, owner of three major Aransas County hotels, said the new performing arts / conference center is an awesome addition to the RCA.

He said, “I think it’s a win/win situation. It (RCA’s downtown campus) will be a catalyst for downtown Rockport.

“When we look back, we’ll see this as a defining moment.”

There were several other positive comments made, and one ominous warning.

Ken Reese, a long time visitor who recently moved to Rockport, said the new facility will be very nice, one that would look good in any large city.

He warned, however, “Don’t ever forget how you got here (and who got you here).”

Public comment deadline

The deadline for public comment about the RCA’s plans is 5 p.m. Sunday, March 1.

Project information is available for review at the City of Rockport Service Center (2751 State Highway 35 Bypass) and Rockport Center for the Arts (638 E. Market Street).

If you have any information regarding potential impacts to historic properties or environ- mental resources including wetlands or floodplains associated with this proposed project please provide it in writing to:

Corey Dunn, Regional Environmental Officer, Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration, 903 San Jacinto Blvd., Suite 206 Austin, TX 78701.

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