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Small East Texas town among 5 finalists for big national design award

Small East Texas town among 5 finalists for big national design award

Sulphur Springs fireworks
Sulphur Springs' revitalization has garnered national attention.  Facebook/City of Sulphur Springs

The small East Texas town of Sulphur Springs is up for a major award for urban design. The community, about 80 miles east of Dallas, is one of five finalists around the country for the 2019 Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence.

The biennial award has recognized transformative places that contribute to the economic, environmental, and social vitality of American cities, according to a statement. Seventy-eight projects in 27 states have been honored since its founding.

Sulphur Springs was recognized for its renewal of a rural, small-town civic plaza and main street. The city's website reminds that it's already known as "The Celebration City" and that "Celebration Plaza" is the signature of the city.

"Sulphur Springs has completed a revitalization effort downtown where over 300 events and public activities are hosted in Celebration Plaza each year," the website says. "A lighted, interactive fountain in the shape of the Texas star, illuminated with ultra violet light is a favorite with the kids. Sulphur Springs also now has a new attraction that’s both whimsical and practical; the only see-through public restrooms in the United States — built with one-way mirrors so people inside can see out, but those outside cannot see in."

Among the other improvements and additions:

  • The transformation of the square from a parking lot to a park with a splash pad, landscaping, game tables, bistro areas, and a 50-foot flagpole in the center. 
  • A recently renovated courthouse.
  • A Korean War veteran statue and wall that lists names of veterans from the county.
  • The Celebration District that features a general store, sports pub, restaurants, winery, live theater, spa, boutiques, and more.

Sulphur Springs joins Houston's Buffalo Bayou Park as a finalist, as well as projects from Lynn, Massachusetts; Memphis, Tennessee; and New Orleans. The winner will secure a gold medal, with a $50,000 prize, and the runner-up, a silver medal, with a $10,000 prize, to enhance current and future projects.

Buffalo Bayou Park in Houston was recognized for its “enhancement of a historic waterway into a resilient public greenspace,” according to a statement by Buffalo Bayou Partnership and SWA Group. The nomination is especially sweet, given the myriad floodings and setbacks the park has endured post- Hurricane Harvey.

Finalists and medalists are chosen by a nationwide committee of urban experts through an in-depth evaluation process involving input from the award application, site visits, interviews with project participants and community members, and committee discussions.

Next month, RBA staffers will begin site visits to each finalist project in preparation for the committee’s selection of the medal winners in June. The other finalists will be featured in Metropolis magazine.