Revitalizing a Small Texas Town: Welcome to Sulphur Springs

Oncor plays key role in downtown project

By:  Rand LaVonn
Laughter and shrieks of joy are now heard regularly through downtown Sulphur Springs.

Young children are playing in the splash-park at the plaza, in the heart of the city. They run to the grassy area, near the Veteran’s Memorial, then run back to the refreshing fountains. The park is lined by tables, chairs, and benches, many occupied by people reading, relaxing or discussing business.

Sulphur Springs is bustling with people, cars and activity. It’s the personification of the city slogan: Just play. Have fun. Celebrate!

“This is Smalltown-USA, and it’s a great place to raise a family,” said Larry Willis, Oncor local manager. “It’s safe, clean and very progressive.”

The crowds are a tremendous change from the past.

“I grew up here and downtown used to be old, ugly and a place you didn’t want to be,” added Lezley Brown, Hopkins County Chamber of Commerce president. “Now it’s the place where everyone wants to be; there is a feeling of hometown.”

Old style streetlights play music, people sit on blankets in the plaza watching movies on a temporary outdoor screen and sidewalk cafes are crowded. Frequent activities and concerts attract more people.

How did the transformation occur?

“We had to completely rethink downtown,” said Marc Maxwell, City Manager. “Thanks to our consultants, we realized that downtown is for people, not cars. Starting ten years ago, we narrowed the streets and expanded the sidewalks. We turned a parking lot into the plaza and gave people a reason to enjoy downtown.”

One ongoing discussion is the glass restrooms featured on the plaza. Actually, the two restrooms are made of one-way glass but they always get a second look.

Located midway between Dallas and Texarkana, Sulphur Springs officials were successful in attracting six new charging stations for Tesla electric cars, and that helps attract new visitors too.

Oncor played a key role in some of the downtown advancements.

“Sulphur Springs used the little-known Underground Facilities Cost Recovery Factor, a small tariff to bury power lines,” explained Danny Kilcrease, Oncor project manager. “It’s helped this small town become a model for other communities.”

“We were the second community to make use of the underground method and now the view is very, very nice,” added Maxwell. Residents paid 12-cents per month extra for two years to cover the costs.

“About once a month I get a call or email from people who want to see what we have done to revitalize downtown,” noted Maxwell. “I give them a walking tour and explain it was very difficult. You have to be able to tell your friends and voters the world is flat and sun rises in the west. City leaders deserve the credit for seeing it through over many years. We know the hard work was worth it.”

Wes VanDeaver, 5, and sister Loralie, 1, play at the downtown Sulphur Springs splash-park;
Lezley Brown, Chamber of Commerce President, enjoying a sidewalk café;
One of two bathrooms on the plaza, made with one-way mirrors;
Marc Maxwell, Sulphur Springs City Manager, watching the many activities at the downtown plaza;
Larry Willis, Oncor area manager in Sulphur Springs, near the downtown splash-park;