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City reveals plans for themed Central Social District

Joshua Baethge,
The Van Alstyne Leader
Plans for the Van Alstyne Central Social District include a splash pad, playground, pavilion and terraced green space.

The city of Van Alstyne has unveiled conceptual renderings of its proposed Central Social District.

If all goes as planned, the project could become a reality before the end of next year.

According to the city’s official mission statement, the goal of the project is to create a “vibrant central meeting place for citizen socialization that offers entertainment, activities and cultural events.”

Plans call for the vacant space bordered by North Main Street, East Van Alstyne Parkway, North Preston Avenue and East Cooper Street to be completely transformed.

The site that once was home to a lumber yard and public works facility will feature a large splash pad, something residents have been clamoring for according to community surveys.

A large multi-use pavilion will be surrounded by terraced, shaded green space. There will also be a playground, picnic area, space for food trucks and even adult-size swings.

“It’s a lot more than a park,” City Manager Lane Jones said. “It’s a way to hang on to our past a little bit, and then as we grow, to bring our residents to a central area.”

In a nod to the city’s heritage, the entire project will have a railroad theme. As many longtime residents know, Van Alstyne was founded in 1872 to be near the Houston and Texas Central Railway.

Depending on who you ask, the city was named for either a William A. Van Alstyne, a civil engineer for the railroad company who surveyed the townsite, or for Marie Van Alstyne, one of the railroad company’s shareholders.

The city was also a stop on the old Interurban railroad, the tracks for which are still visible in downtown.

Setting the train theme in the Central Social District will be a restored railcar overlooking the space currently used for the Railcar Farmers Market. As part of the project, that area will be paved along with the parking lot adjacent to City Hall.

The splash pad has been designed to resemble an old train turnstile, and the playground equipment will be train themed as well. Eventually, the railroad theme will likely spread to signage throughout the city as well as its gateway areas.

Jones says the social district is something he has been working for since he came to Van Alstyne in 2018.

He believes it is something needed to help the community maintain its small town feel. Throughout his tenure, he has been researching what has worked in other cities to help develop a plan unique to Van Alstyne.

Two studies conducted by the city in the past five years identified the need to do something to help revitalize downtown.

In order to come up with something the community could rally around, city officials solicited feedback from the school district, the Community Development Corporation and residents. All have shown support for the preliminary plans

The success of Music in the Park and the Railcar Farmers Market over the past two years highlight the need for a larger and more up-to-date gathering space.

In the addition to those events, the new Central Social District could host events like Fall der All, community garage sales, holiday celebrations and movie nights. Down the road there may also be additional events like Taste of Van Alstyne, Octoberfest and Food Truck Fridays.

“It’s something that my heart is into because I believe it will be good for everyone in Van Alstyne, and it will be a great starting point in our revitalization efforts,” Jones said.

In May, the city council approved a preliminary financing plan and issued certificates of obligation. The Central Social District plans will not affect the city’s tax rate.

The city hopes to have final designs approved by March. Assuming that goes as planned, a construction company will be chosen and work will commence. The hope, weather permitting, is to have the project completed by November 2021.

This land one block northwest of Van Alstyne City Hall will soon be transformed into the Van Alstyne Central Social District.