Odessa residents ask for downtown housing, green space

More housing, businesses, green space and entertainment options, are among the top downtown priorities, Odessa residents and community leaders cited during a downtown master plan townhall meeting held Monday.

About two dozen people participated in the first of nine town hall sessions scheduled this week to help the city update its goals for downtown. All the meetings, which are open to the public, will be held at the Odessa Police Department’s first floor training room.

Residents can also watch and participate in the townhall meetings via live streaming on the city and Downtown Odessa Facebook pages.

“The goal is to try and understand Odessa,” said Jeff Whitacre, vice president of Kimley-Horn, the planning and design consulting firm hired to oversee the updating of the city’s downtown master plan. “We want the community to tell us their thoughts and describe what they would like to see.”

Whitacre’s invitation spurred a lively conversation between those physically present and participating through the internet.

Dustin Fawcett, regional director for the Better Business Bureau of the Permian Basin, said downtown planning needs to focus on providing a diversity of housing options and activities for younger Odessa residents.

“The median age in Odessa is 31 years old,” Fawcett said. “We have a lot of young families who have kids, so we need diverse activities.”

Several town hall participants said two of the city’s top priorities should be to develop affordable downtown housing for young professionals such as hospital nurses and school teachers. The second priority is attracting more businesses and restaurants that cater to a younger crowd, along with a variety of regular events and activities.

Whitacre said downtown housing could be a catalyst for a more dynamic downtown, but comes with several challenges.

Apartment complexes, townhouses, condominiums are all possible housing options, but city leaders would need to decide where those housing sites could be built, Whitacre said. Traditional single-family homes would likely be too costly to build.

Other priorities mentioned by residents included more green space and beautification of downtown, and additional sidewalks and bike paths to make it easier for people to get around. Better parking facilities were also frequently mentioned.

Kimley-Horn Designer Daniel Acevedo, said the city’s previous master plan focused on the construction of a downtown convention center, which was accomplished.

“The previous plan looked more at entertainment and activities downtown,” Acevedo said. “The question now is how we proceed to the next step.

Kimley-Horn representatives fielded numerous questions from town hall participants who wondered what would happen if the much-discussed relocation of the Ector County Courthouse became a reality. Some residents feared that action would prompt attorney firms and bail bonds businesses to also move.

Whitacre and Acevedo said if such a move occurred, it could create space and opportunities for more housing and other businesses to relocate downtown.

“I think, if it ever happened, it could really open things up and the area could be used for other things,” Whitacre said.

The three Monday town hall meetings focused on goals and objectives, built environment and visioning and streetscaping and walkability.

Tuesday town hall meeting times and topics will include 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., land use, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., activities and public events, and 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., parking. Wednesday’s townhall sessions will resume at 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Grant Ave., 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. developer’s workshop and 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., presentation of ideas.

The city council in June voted unanimously to hire planning and design architects Kimley-Horn to oversee the updating of the plan. The firm is being paid $85,000 for their work. Whitacre has said the project will take about six months to complete.