BASTROP, Texas (KXAN) — Economic leaders in Bastrop are courting every vote in a contest to revitalize several downtown businesses as they forecast a big drop in sales tax revenue in the near future thanks to a massive development project on the main road from Austin to their town.
The online show “Small Business Revolution: Main Street” announced the five finalists for its next season on Tuesday, and Bastrop made the cut along with towns in Illinois, Massachusetts, California and Arkansas. If Bastrop gets more votes than any of the others, the show will select six downtown businesses to split $500,000 for marketing and other revitalization efforts.
City leaders are getting out the vote, hoping to make a statewide push to get Bastrop, the smallest of the towns by far, to the top. You can vote online here once per day per email address through Feb. 20.
“Still looking for celebrity endorsements,” said Sarah O’Brien, Bastrop’s hospitality and downtown director, “so I tweeted at Matthew McConaughey yesterday. I haven’t heard back from him yet.”
The opportunity comes at a good time for Bastrop businesses. Many are still trying to change people’s perceptions after several natural disasters in the last seven years, O’Brien said. “Across the country, people familiarize us with the 2011 Complex Fire, and so, oftentimes, people think that Bastrop isn’t open for business, and we are.”
O’Brien and other city leaders are also concerned about a soon-to-be-built mixed-use development, including as much as 4.5 million square feet of retail, office and residential space, among other uses.
The development, called Velocity Crossing, will sit at the corner of two major highways, just west of State Highway 130 and just south of State Highway 71 — the main road that takes people between Austin and Bastrop.
O’Brien said the development could siphon off their customer base, with fewer people heading to Bastrop to shop. She anticipates it will cost them $2 million per year in sales tax revenue within a few years of its completion, and the town’s general fund is heavily dependent on that money to keep operating.
Doug Launius, who owns the property where the development will be built, doesn’t believe it will have that effect. With so much growth on the horizon in southeast Austin, he told KXAN in a phone interview Tuesday, there will be enough customers to go around. “Bastrop is a wonderful place,” Launius said. “I don’t think they have anything to fear.”
That development is still several years away from completion. The last few years, Launius said, they’ve worked behind the scenes to get the work started, and it will still take time before they’re ready to break ground.
Even without that potential threat, Bastrop businesses could use the help the reality show can offer.
“If we could win this and be one of the chosen, they would help us with the marketing and things we really can’t afford to do right now,” said Stephen Todee, owner of Copper Shot Distillery in downtown Bastrop.
Todee was renovating one of the decks outside his business Tuesday, cutting old boards and nailing up a new facade where he recently pulled out an intrusive bench. Business has been going well thanks to local support, he said, but with less than a year in operation under his belt, he simply doesn’t have the money to do everything the company could use.
“We’re hoping by the end of the year to staff up at least three more folks,” he said, “if things keep moving along like we’re doing.”
Downtown business owners, Todee included, were a big part of the effort to get Bastrop to this point, putting up window stickers on their storefronts and posters on their doors. After being selected as one of 10 finalists in the last round, they mounted a successful social media campaign using the hashtag #MyBastrop.
Small Business Revolution, produced by the company Deluxe, announced the winners in a live Facebook video. O’Brien and other city leaders gathered at Neighbors Kitchen and Yard early Tuesday morning to watch. The room erupted in screams and cheers as the show’s hosts added Bastrop to the list of finalists.
If Bastrop wins the contest, the show will select the six businesses to receive the money and profile them on the next season. O’Brien said the impact doesn’t stop there. “You’re going to have the film crew here eating and sleeping at hotels. They’re going to be hiring local contractors to work with those six stores and hopefully local accountant and financial services,” she said. “And so the economic impact is really just immeasurable.”
It’s going to be tough for the town to beat out the other, much larger competitors. With a population of just over 8,500, it’s about half the size of the two next-smallest cities on the list, Amesbury, Mass., and Siloam Springs, Ark., both with more than 16,000 people living there. The largest city on the list, Martinez, Calif., has a population of more than 38,000, and Alton, Ill., the final city on the list, has close to 29,000.
O’Brien is confident they can garner enough votes across Texas to do it — if they can get the word out to the rest of the state to vote daily — but if they don’t make the cut for the show, Todee said even this amount of exposure is helpful.
“We don’t even have to be winners,” he said. “We’re kind of already winners, because it made a difference, you know?”