By Sgt. Melissa N. Lessard, 504th Military Intelligence Brigade Public Affairs
(FORT HOOD, Texas, September 12, 2019)- Imagine walking downtown Killeen, Texas on a road littered with vacant buildings where businesses used to be, and what remains is a monotonous pattern of auto sales and repair shops, barbershops and liquor stores.
Sgt. 1st Class Clarence Nickens, a native of Baltimore, Maryland, 504th Military Intelligence Brigade has plans to help revitalize downtown Killeen. He said the town has had a plan in place since 2009 with a proposed 2020 completion date.
The current plan to revitalize Killeen would change downtown "...through the rehabilitation of buildings, the development of quality pedestrian friendly public spaces and by encouraging appropriate commercial development, the city can create a thriving social, cultural, and commercial location that will attract visitors and residents alike," states the Killeen chamber online executive summary. "Downtown revitalization is an essential component to the economic vitality of Killeen and, as a thriving commercial and social hub, can play a key role in attracting industry, business and the creative class."
The people and the community are Nickens' passion which is why he is continuously seeking to improve the town.
At the age of 14, Nickens created a nonprofit organization in Baltimore, Maryland catered to youth and by the time he was 22 years old he assisted with building 80 homes in the Baltimore area.
Nickens owns a business downtown and visualizes using it as a hub and has met with other business owners to gather their buy-in to revitalize, he said.
"I pulled the plan...I see opportunities," said Nickens."
"The goal is reverse urban sprawl," he said. Urban sprawl happens when a city continues to grow into the rural areas, eventually leaving the center of the town neglected.
Staff Sgt. James Got with 1st Cavalry Division, 1st Brigade, has known Nickens for over 16 months. He said a future goal for Nickens is to develop a nonprofit organization that aids in certifying residents in trade jobs.
Other changes that Nickens sees for the Killeen area future is more green spaces, lighting, more people visiting, and more events for the local people, he said.
An aspect of revitalizing Killeen is to have pedestrian friendly places especially after hours.
Both Nickens and Hoy said that instead of having Soldiers from post drive an hour to Austin or three hours to Dallas, they want them to see what the local communities have to offer.
"There's a lot of different strategies but it takes people," said Nickens. "People are risk averse because they do not have the tools and resources and then they don't move forward."
One of those strategies is meeting with the local business and communities members one by one, which is what Nickens has been doing during his off time. He wants to empower people and share his past experiences with revitalization.
"I want to show people that the perceived risk is not the actual risk," Nickens said.