The City of Titusville, Florida / NewsDowntown Titusville shines, community redevelopment sparking growth
By Ken Datzman, Brevard Business News
TITUSVILLE — Historic Downtown Titusville has never looked better, a shining example of how community redevelopment can revitalize an area, uplift commerce, and attract entrepreneurs willing to put their capital to work because they see a bright future for their ventures.
Downtown Titusville is on the threshold of a new cycle of business growth and expansion, after experiencing years of decline and decreasing investment in the area. “Things are definitely looking bright in Titusville,” said Tim Ford, redevelopment planner for the City of Titusville.
The Downtown Titusville Community Redevelopment Agency has two areas with a concentration of historic buildings and several other historic structures scattered throughout the district.
One of the most prominent of these is the downtown commercial area that is centered generally along South Washington and Hopkins Avenues, between Broad Street and Julia Street. This area is characterized by several two–story, multi–use buildings dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The buildings define a “main street” context for several blocks. The City of Titusville has used an urban–design concept to revitalize the CRA area, and the results are impressive.
“I think that a lot of people who have not visited downtown Titusville in some time, will be pleasantly surprised to see what’s happening here. This is a very vibrant business district filled with all types of merchants. Downtown Titusville is back in a big way,” said Ford.
Two of those merchants are entrepreneurial businesswomen Heidi Thamert and Julie Hilligoss. Thamert runs The Downtown Gallery Fine Art & Custom Framing shop at 335 S. Washington Ave. She operates the store with her husband, Jeff Thamert.
Across the street, Hilligoss runs Hotpoint Boutique, a women’s apparel, jewelry, and accessory retailer, which includes a thriving salon in a dedicated section of the building. She works alongside her husband, Justin Hilligoss.
Both shops are well appointed and showcase, through various design features, the transformational change of downtown Titusville, which is a preferred destination for city residents and visitors since redevelopment reshaped the area.
“We’re very proud of downtown Titusville and all the great things that have happened here for small–business owners like Julie (Hilligoss) and me,” said Heidi Thamert, who is president of the Downtown Titusville Merchants Association. “New businesses are opening downtown because it’s the place to be. There is a lot of energy.”
“I grew up in Titusville and this is where I wanted to have a business,” said Julie Hilligoss. “The downtown area is really nice and we have a great group of merchants.” She is vice president of the Downtown Titusville Merchants Association. They are joined on the board by Sue Gilman, secretary; Debbie Shuler, treasurer; and Polly Schuster, public relations. The organization works to promote businesses in downtown, through different activities and events.
“The Downtown Titusville Merchants Association has been instrumental in bringing activities downtown,” said Ford. “They are making things happen.”
The downtown area features restaurants, retail shops, antique stores, salons, museums, and much more. The lineup of businesses includes Caffe Chocolat, Kloiber’s Cobbler Eatery, Cupcakes on Main, MacSweets, Vessels in Stoneware Gallery, Kayaks By Bo, Chops Restaurant and Lounge, Cliff Shuler Auctioneers & Liquidators Inc., Stickee Surf Shop, Popped Perfections, Dusty Rose Antique Mall, Central Garage Antiques, Playalinda Brewery Co., and Expressions Salon.
Heidi and Jeff Thamert opened their business in September 2002, one year after the 9/11 terror attacks. “We definitely faced some challenges and then made it through the recession,” she said, adding, “This has been a great year for our business. Typically, the slow time is August and September, but this year even those months were terrific.”
They started with 700 square feet and today The Downtown Gallery occupies 2,200 square feet. “We first expanded about seven years ago and followed up with another expansion four years ago, when we added the back section to the Gallery. We have a back entrance so people can park in the common area in back of the building, which is convenient,” she said. One of the CRA’s projects was the development of the Titusville Commons Parking area.
The Downtown Gallery features the work of 15 different local artists, including Heidi and Jeff Thamert. “We have everything from pottery and wood sculptures to stained glass and photography, as well as water colors and oil paintings,” she said. Heidi Thamert is a photographer, as is her husband.
Their business sells a wide range of art including scenes of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. “We sell a lot of unique items that you won’t find in the big–box retail stores. Right now, we’re gearing up for holiday sales. We do a lot of custom framing during the holiday season. People bring things to be framed, including memorabilia. These items make really nice gifts and preserve a special memory for someone.”
Hotpoint Boutique, whose slogan is “where fashion meets style,” is at 326 S. Washington Ave. in the old Hotpoint building. “They made Hotpoint appliances there in the 1950s,” said Julie Hilligoss. “I even have one. We wanted to keep the history of the name so we restored the old vintage Hotpoint sign and lit it up again. It’s beautiful. That was exciting.”
She said she had the opportunity to meet Wendell Sease, who was the original owner of Sease Electric. He installed the Hotpoint sign on the building in the early 1950s. She said it was a “wonderful feeling to bring the building back to life and treasure the history of the Hotpoint name.” The building housed other businesses too through the years.
Hotpoint Boutique sells a number of exclusive clothing brands, including Elan, Escapda, West Indies Wear, and Rum Reggage, for example. The store carries items that are Florida–friendly.
“A lot of the clothing lines we sell are made in America, and we carry the latest styles and trends,” said Julie Hilligoss, who earned her bachelor’s degree in health science/community health and nutrition from the University of North Florida. She said she’s always embraced “fashion and design” and wanted to be an entrepreneur.
Justin and Julie Hilligoss operate a “two–in–one business.” In the back section of their building, they opened a salon called “etc,” which stands for “Exclusive Transformations and Color.” That business already has grown to five stylists. There is a privacy wall dividing the two businesses.
“People leave feeling great about themselves, and I love to see that,” she said.
“The ladies walk through and see all the beautiful clothes and accessories as they go to their hair appointments,” added Heidi Thamert.
Hotpoint Boutique is her second venture. She owned City Glitter Clothing, a resale boutique, for about five years. “That business did well for the time because we were coming out of the recession.” As the economy began to strengthen, Julie Hilligoss decided she wanted to be better positioned in the women’s apparel market and opened
“Everyone has been really receptive to it. I was a little nervous about making the change. But I feel it was a really good move and consumers are responding positively to what we have to offer. The feedback from customers has been uplifting. We’re looking to have a good holiday season,” she said.
To kick off the Christmas shopping season in Titusville, The Downtown Art Gallery will host a “Mingle n’ Jungle Holiday Soiree” from 6 to 9 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 4. Attendees will have the opportunity to socialize with friends, sip sangria, and enjoy holiday treats as they shop “five unique showrooms” of gift items in all price ranges, while supporting local artists and small businesses. There will be holiday gift item door prizes, too.
Heidi Thamert said the Holiday Soiree is one of “many events that will take place in downtown Titusville through December. There will be Christmas parades, street parties, and other community gatherings.”
People who visit downtown Titusville will be seeing some unique, very large murals on a couple of buildings. Local artist Terrence Cope is putting the finishing touches on the North Brevard Mural Society’s first mural, “Space
and Time Capsule,” located at 5 Main St. “Terrence Cope is one of the artists whose meticulous work is showcased at The Downtown Gallery,” said Heidi Thamert.
In another location, people can see the expansive beauty of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge depicted in a mural at 410 S. Hopkins Ave., on the south wall of the Kayaks By Bo building. Artist Keith Goodson is painting that mural, titled “Paddling Our Wildlife Paradise.” These murals are the first of many to add to the
gallery of public art in the area.
Titusville, using its natural strengths, is gearing up to become a “trail town” and to capitalize on ecotourism. Florida’s tourism industry is often thought of only in terms of theme parks and beaches. That part of the industry is extremely important, but ecotourism is also a major reason that tourists visit Florida. Ecotourism includes a diverse mix of activities, including cycling, camping, fishing, hunting, paddling, hiking, kayaking, birding, and visiting scenic byways.
“Titusville is situated in the East Central region of the state, where major bicycle and hiking trails converge. We are positioned to become the hub of all these intersecting trails,” said Ford, citing the East Coast Greenway and the Space Coast Loop Trail, and others.
The East Coast Greenway, conceived in 1991, is the nation’s most ambitious long–distance urban trail. By connecting existing and planned shared–use trails, a continuous, traffic–free route is being formed. At 2,900 miles long, the East Coast Greenway links Calais, Maine, at the Canadian border, with Key West. Alternative routes add another 2,000 miles to the East Coast Greenway trail system. Ford says the East Coast Greenway is for cyclists. It can be used today. By connecting existing trails with carefully selected on–road routing, a complete route “is in place from Maine to Key West.” Nearly 30 percent of the route is trail.
The Space Coast Loop Trail includes the Kennedy Space Center Loop Trail and the East Central Florida Regional Rail Trail. The Space Coast Loop is part of the St. John’s River to Sea Loop, Ford said, which spans 300 miles across five counties. Brevard County’s section of the East Central Florida Regional Trail Loop stretches from Canaveral Avenue in Titusville to the Volusia County line.
The paved 12–foot wide multi–use trail will connect with 52 miles of rail trail in Volusia County and is part of the larger Space Coast Loop Trail and Coast–to–Coast Connector Trail. The Coast–to–Coast Connector Trail travels 270 miles across the entire state. Roughly 75 percent of this “safe, multi–use trail is already completed or funded for development,” according to the Space Coast Transportation Planning Organization.
One of the things Titusville plans to do in the months ahead is break ground on a Visitors Welcome Center that will be built on South Hopkins Avenue in downtown. “It’s going to be about 2,000 square feet,” said Ford. “We’re looking to break ground on the project around the first of the year. The Welcome Center will cater to hikers, cyclists, and other people using the trail system. And it will be promoting Titusville to encourage people to come through and visit the shops and stores and enjoy all the great things that are happening downtown.”
Ford added that the City of Titusville is looking to make improvements to the streets and provide some amenities to attract cyclists to downtown, such as perhaps setting up bicycle repair self–service stations and even adding “artistic” bicycle racks. “It’s all in the planning stages right now.”
Ford said, “Ecotourism is becoming a major economic development component of the city.”
Titusville is gearing up to host the 2016 Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival, one of the largest events of its kind in the nation. The 19th annual Festival is Jan. 20–25 and typically draws more than 5,000 birding and wildlife enthusiasts. The program includes workshops, field trips, water adventures, and other special events. The Southeast Tourism Society rates the Festival as one of its “Top 20” sustainable events.
“The Festival is a really big event for Titusville and draws people from all over. It’s one of the largest Festivals of its type on the East Coast, if not the entire nation. This is a showcase event for Titusville and it’s great for the business community,” said Heidi Thamert.