WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas -- Hutto continues to grow; With a new industrial business park, a new entertainment district, and new improvements to a downtown thoroughfare on the way, it's clear the city is investing in the future.
But they’re also working to preserve Hutto’s history.
On East Street in downtown, some of the buildings were built in the 1880s.
As new businesses fill spots that have sat vacant for years, they’re choosing to renovate and restore.
"These stairs will be gone, there will be a couple glass openings over here to let natural light in,” said Joshua Claman as he gave KVUE a tour of the building he now owns in downtown Hutto. "Horses and buggies used to pull up to unload merchandise so that door opening is actually original.”
The building, on the corner of East and Farley, was built in the 1890s, used to be a grocery store, at one point it was a home, and most recently it sat vacant for several years.
"Bringing the building back to some of the historical standard, but also but just bringing it to life again seemed like a really nice project,” said Claman.
He plans to turn it into a restaurant, bar, and coffee shop, with offices upstairs. He hopes it will help build a community that will live, work, and play in Hutto.
"This is a little bit of a commuter town, people go into Austin or Round Rock, keeping a population here and making it a center of gravity is important for the town," said Claman. "Now that Hutto has gone from literally a few hundred people in the 1960s to I think 23,000 people today, it just seems right to bring all of this back to life."
A task, he said now is a bit more daunting than originally thought.
"I came into this in a very naive fashion,” said Claman. "Essentially what we have structurally is a brick surround, and that brick surround was built in 1890 or so.”
He hopes to have the renovations done by the Fall of 2017.
"It's fun, it's a fun project,” said Claman.
A few doors down, Judi and Sean Smith opened their restaurant, The Downtown Hall of Fame in the old Busch building almost six years ago.
"The building is so old and it’s so pretty. There's just a lot of old brick,” said Smith.
They recently expanded it by renovating an old church behind them.
"Kind of opened it up a little bit, added rustic elements, added a bar and a big stage,” said Smith.
Judi Smith said they wanted to capture Hutto's history, by using wood from old Hutto homes, and tin from local barns.
"We got to repurpose a lot of the stuff that's been here since [the] early 1900s,” said Judi Smith.
"We actually got to take old pieces of Hutto and bring it in, put it back in to give it that rustic look,” said Sean Smith.
Helen Ramirez, the Executive Director Business & Development Services for Hutto, said it’s part of what makes downtown unique.
"We can still keep the historic authenticity of Hutto because many times that's what makes an old town, or historic district special,” said Ramirez. "Businesses, surrounding businesses really want to take care of Hutto.”
She started working for the city about two years ago and said she’s seen the downtown drastically change.
"I remember walking East Street -- along East Street -- and just seeing all the closed store fronts or the for lease signs. And here we are a year to two years later seeing that there really is no available space," said Ramirez.
“You see the growth in Hutto and these other towns a lot of strip malls, a lot of these sort of characterless buildings, that are whipped up in four or five months. I don't think that enriches a community. I don't think it draws a community together,” said Claman. "I think these charming old buildings remind a community through design and architecture what that community really stood for from the beginning.”
"I think we want to make sure we remember it, like I know we've only been here for a few years, but I know a lot of people have been here for a very long time when it was just a couple hundred people and it was really small,” said Judi Smith. "I would imagine that as all the new people are coming in, it's a cool thing but it can be very sad if we don't hold on to 'hey this used to be a tiny little town with a few farmhouses.' We don't want people to really forget about it.”
And they're making sure, no one does.
As business owners restore some of the old buildings, the city has the Downtown Façade Improvement Grant Program to help with some of the costs.
"This is for businesses and residents, preservation of the historic building that we have in our historic district that was created in 1911,” said Ramirez.
Homeowners in the area can get in on it too. The money can be used for a new sign, paint, or siding and roofing -- as long as you can see the improvements from the street.
The city will contribute up to the following amounts:
- Major Facade Restoration: up to $5,000
- New coat of paint: up to $2,500
- New signage: up to $750
This is the second year for the program.
"Even though that had spearheaded a smaller amount of funds originally for this program, when they received all the great input and applications, they actually increased the funding to fund all the eligible applicants," said Ramirez.
The city plans to launch the program again in July. Applications will be due later this year.