Kaufman officials continue to eye growth on the horizon

Kaufman community leaders, merchants, and citizens came together to celebrate the grand re-opening of the square after many of months of construction and renovation work on Independence Day last month.

With the completion of the newly renovated downtown square, the continuation of street projects and new commerce and facilities on the way, Kaufman City Manager Mike Slye and Assistant City Manager Mike Holder continue to have their eyes on the horizon.

At the center of Kaufman’s upcoming developments, perhaps nothing is more top-of-mind for Kaufman city officials than housing. As Slye says “Rooftops drive retail,” and with that in mind he has made it a top priority to attract new residential opportunities to the growing community.

At its core, much of Slye’s hopes for the residential future of Kaufman lies in the Georgetown community near Kings Fort, which is preparing to build its first 10 houses over the next several months. But Georgetown isn’t the only horse Slye is backing; he has also begun negotiations with a broker interested in building another apartment complex in town and believes it’s something that Kaufman residents can expect to see in the short-term.

“I feel very confident that another multi-family apartment complex is in the near future for Kaufman,” Slye said.

He’s also been working with the owner of the sizable tract of land between Kings Fort and the work-in-progress Georgetown community. Dubbing it the “Kaufman 45,” Slye says that the owner of this 45-acre tract of land is also interested in building a residential community similar to what Jim Meara is doing with Georgetown.

“That represents another possible 215 single-family homes,” Slye said. “We’re in discussion with the broker on that deal. I know that they’re anxious to be a part of this commercial and residential growth.”

But as important as housing is to Slye, Holder and other city officials, it’s still only one piece of the puzzle. Slye recognizes that in order to attract these brokers and companies to invest in Kaufman, the city’s infrastructure needs to be impeccable. 

“You’ve got to have the infrastructure; the roads, water, utilities, storm drainage, all of that has to be top-notch to bring in the top-notch developers because that’s the expectation. And rightfully so.”

To that end, the city is preparing to begin what Slye calls “Street Bond Phase 2” which will be advertised for bid in mid-September. This project will consist of work on Ninth Street, Main Street and Circle Drive with the specific intent to fix the drainage issues that have plagued the city after heavy rains.

“That whole area is inundated with poor drainage, and as a consequence, running water and standing water do significant damage to our infrastructure,” Slye said. 

The city also has its eye on Kaufman County’s recently announced bond election that, if approved by county voters, would pay for 73 road projects around the county. One of those projects would be the widening of Tabor Parkway, which runs between Kaufman High School and Walmart, from two lanes to four.

“Tabor Parkway was originally designed to be a four-lane divided road; a lot of the planning and design work has already been accomplished,” Slye said. “If the [county] bond is successful, Tabor Parkway will be completed.”

In addition to the city’s infrastructure, Slye is also eyeing the construction of what may be a vital new facility for the town: a community center that will be located off of Highway 175. With its design already approved, Slye plans to go out for construction bids in October and hopes that the project will be complete by this time next year. Once it’s completed, the community center will house the Chamber of Commerce offices and Senior Connect as well as offer a large rental area for gatherings and community events. 

Construction workers are also putting the finishing touches on the Kaufman Square as they extend the East Grove sidewalk. As excited about the new square as ever, Slye is already eyeing Christmas decorations for the holidays and is hopeful that the merchants will get involved in making the square a destination throughout the year.

“You don’t put a $2 million feature in the middle of your downtown and just le it die,” Slye said. “The whole purpose was to revitalize the square. There are several towns that you can point to and say that they did it right. We’re not trying to re-create the wheel. Give me a McKinney square and I’m good.”

In addition to the Burger King and Schlotzsky’s that will be going up in the town soon, Slye sees the square as a vital center for expanding commercial activity in Kaufman. He has plans in place to hire a marketing coordinator who will put together a website dedicated to recruiting merchants to join the square, and hopes that it will help in attracting boutiques and restaurants to join Kaufman’s downtown. He also floated the idea of vendors who participate in First Monday in Canton setting up permanent shop in Kaufman for easy access and to attract shoppers on that monthly route.

Slye says he has already received an increased number of inquiries regarding the square since it was completed earlier this summer and he’s hopeful that he can turn this interest into business. 

“We’ve gotten lots (more) activity than we’ve seen in the past,” Slye said. “People coming and knocking and doing inquiries. That’s an encouraging sign.”

A noteworthy piece to Downtown Kaufman’s puzzle is its centerpiece, the Kaufman County Courthouse. While the courthouse is currently a beacon of activity and congestion on the square, the county’s recently announced facilities bond proposal would pay for the construction of a new justice center, which would move the county’s court system to the area adjacent to Kaufman County Correctional Facility. While some residents have expressed concern that this would dry up traffic to the square, both Slye and Holder are confident that this wouldn’t be the case.

“I don’t anticipate any lack of activity other than jury duty day,” Slye said.

“I think we could actually see increased activity with the consolidation of services that the public need,” Holder said. “Now they're going off to all of these satellite sites. Right now, if it's a big, heavy court day, a lot of people might decide 'I'm not going to do my business on the square today' because they know there's significant parking issues, there is prisoner transport. With that removed, it's going to be more consumer friendly, and I think we'll see more day-to-day traffic."

Though they have many big projects in the works, both Holder and Slye recognize that unless the quality of life in Kaufman is high, all of the new additions will ring hollow. To that end, they’re pleased with the city’s recently adopted master park plan, a critical component to getting grant money for future park improvements. Slye is eyeing at the creation of a disc golf course and new water features, including splash pads. He’s also looking at implementing a lengthy walking and biking path that would extend across a sizable portion of the town.

“We’re looking at improving the quality of life and the number of recreational opportunities for members of this community,” Slye said.

“We get asked a lot about amenities, especially for kids,” Holder said. “During the summer it’s top of mind. People say they have to drive to find activities for their kids. And that’s something that we’ve heard. There are plans afoot to remedy a lot of that.” 

One of those plans is a new youth summer program that Slye hopes to organize for next year. Slye’s vision for the two- to three-week program includes a formal curriculum, field trips and daily activities. He’s already discussed the idea with Kaufman ISD superintendent Lori Blaylock to use some of the schools’ facilities and she’s on board. While Slye says there will be a cost for the program, it isn’t defined yet.

“We recognize that there are many families that are dual income that have to make arrangements somehow for their children,” Slye said. “I’m really excited about this. It’s something that I’ve had in other communities that I’ve managed. We’re only limited by our own imaginations about what we can and can’t do.”

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