Posted on June 19, 2017
Published by El Dorado News Times
By Kaitlyn Rigdon Staff Writer
EL DORADO — Richard and Vertis Mason co-authors of the book “From A Dead Downtown To America’s Best Downtown,” spoke about their journey restoring Downtown El Dorado at the Civitan Club meeting on Thursday.
Both Richard and Vertis graduated from local schools and attended the University of Arkansas. Richard graduated with an advanced degree in Geology and went to work for Exxon in South Texas. After six years for Exxon, he began working as an independent oil and gas exploration geologist in 1974. That’s the year he and Vertis decided to move back home.
Richard and Vertis first spoke about how the arches that were located downtown until the 1980s needed to come down.
After the arches came down, Richard and Vertis started looking into purchasing property downtown.
The couple were instrumental in opening up the flow of traffic downtown and then bought three buildings, including where The Black Cat restaurant
“So we bought those three buildings and they were falling down in terrible shape,” Vertis said. “That was part of the problem in Downtown El Dorado. The property owners had not done one thing to help that, so we went in and totally renovated those buildings.”
After selling some oil property, the couple decided to invest in more property downtown. “We ended up buying most of the block on Jefferson, across from the courthouse,” Richard said. “That got us in really deep because we had about 25 to 30 thousand feet of empty space and a lot of renovation to do.”
Throughout the process of revitalizing downtown, the couple listened to many experts. Where Loredo Grill stands was once an empty lot. They brought an architect in who designed the building to match the others on the street.
They had one expert tell them that the key to revitalizing a downtown is to make your downtown the center of the town as well as making it pedestrian friendly. “He said, ‘make your downtown so pedestrian friendly that kids will play around the monuments on the square,’” Richard said. “Well in a few years, the Symphony decided to play their Memorial Day concert on the square. We had built up a lot of things and we were sitting there, with the concert well underway, and I looked at Vertis and said ‘look.’ There were kids playing around the monument.”
A lot of inspiration for downtown came from European cities, including putting trees around the courthouse and on all of the streets.
They also spoke about their hotel business, Union Square Guest Quarters. They started out with two apartments above the Loredo Grill, but soon realized they didn’t want to be apartment owners. They turned the apartments into a two room hotel. Now they have 35 rooms and were sold out for the first time Thursday night.
When approached about buying the Rialto Theater, they decided to buy it with a reasonable price in order to save it. The Rialto served as a movie theater for almost 20 years and was then converted into a bar. “It was really successful. It was the first time the Rialto was making money,” Richard said. “And then Festivals and Events came along and they wanted that as the center piece of their downtown.”
Richard described the Murphy Arts District, formally Festivals and Events, as a watershed moment for El Dorado. “It’s going to change the town like nothing has since the oil boom,” he said.
Vertis mentioned a few other events they brought to the town including the Showdown on Sunset, which still happens once a year. They tried a farmers market and a flea market, but neither worked out in the end. They also brought the bed races to downtown, 5Ks and peprallys.
“We’ve had a lot of success here in El Dorado and we’re really proud of it,” Richard said.