By Lindsay Starr Platt, Correspondent
The downtown area of Belton has seen many changes throughout the last two decades. Many of the changes have included the beautification project of the Landing at Nolan Creek, increased retail and small business located in downtown and the preservation of the Bell County Courthouse. All of these changes have helped make Belton a place to go, work and play.
“The Nolan Creek Recreational and Flood Mitigation Project began in November 2014 and finished with the completion of the Nolan Creek Nature Trail in Summer 2016. The city, along with several community partners and a grant from Texas Parks and Wildlife, turned the section of the Nolan Creek located downtown into a ‘must see’ destination in Belton. The limestone blocks, shallow pools and several drop features provide visitors the opportunity to recreate in and around the water. We have seen the creek be transformed into a hot-bed of activity during the warmer months with folks tubing, kayaking, and fishing along the creek downtown,” said Matt Bates, Director of Belton Parks and Recreation.
“I myself have been in Belton for close to five years and in that time I have seen downtown change dramatically which is a testament to the dedicated work of our downtown business owners and the many great projects the city has committed to, façade grants, downtown signage etc. and the continued efforts to improve infrastructure. When I go downtown now on weekends and in the evening. I am proud to call Belton home and could not be happier with the development of our historic and beautiful Downtown.”
Belton Chamber of Commerce started the Patriot Way Brick Walk, which pays a tribute and honor to local Bell County service members, past and present. The Belton Chamber of Commerce has also kept alive the tradition of the historic Fourth of July Parade which attracts thousands of spectators every year.
“The two biggest changes I think I have seen is the movement of the court and jail to Loop 121 which really opened up the downtown area and the reuse of the old gin into a restaurant and entertainment venue. Belton is growing, but in all the right ways,” said Larry Berg, Belton chief of Police.
Most noticeable by residents and visitors in Belton is the development of many old and vacant buildings and have been turned into viable properties. Buildings that looked nearly abandoned in 1997 are now places to go shop, eat and enjoy a day or evening out in downtown Belton.
“I opened my business in 2011 and I have seen many other businesses try to open and make it. It is tough to watch when they fail, but more so, is how rewarding it is when a business thrives and makes an impact on the quality of life in downtown Belton,” said Leila Valchar, owner of My Giving Tree. “We need more business to invest and make Belton a better tourist draw. I want to see Belton become a destination. It is so great to see people walking around on Market Days visiting our shops and eating at our downtown restaurants. I hope Belton will continue to grow and keep cultivating new businesses. Belton can become the destination as a place to spend the day on the town and well into the evening hours.”
Schoepf’s Barbeque on Central Avenue was one the first businesses to open more than 20 years ago and signify a sign of new growth in downtown Belton.
“When we started Schoepf’s 25 years ago, there was nothing really downtown, no Gin or Corona’s. Our building that we are in was going to be bulldozed down. Clark Mayor, the mayor at the time wanted to level it. We talked him into saving it and working with SBA we built our place here,” said Ronnie Schoepf, owner of Schoepf’s Barbeque. “We didn’t even have a sound ordinance for downtown until I started making noise. I started to see things improve. I think we played a part to keep things moving and encouraged other to grow and open up businesses. Who ever would have thought we would have Thai food in downtown Belton? Just remarkable. As long as we keep having events here and downtown, we can draw people into town. We can get people to try new things and to grow. If you aren’t growing, you are dying.”