Some East Texas phrases are foreign to Sonya Trout, but she clearly understands when people comment that she had to “hit the ground running” when she became special events coordinator for the city of Kilgore in January.
She grew up in Australia and moved to Kilgore in November. Two months later, she began serving in a position that calls for her to take the lead in directing some major Kilgore projects – including renovation of the Texan Theater and putting the finishing touches to the city’s application for a cultural district designation from the Texas Commission on the Arts.
Trout finds herself in a position of learning while leading.
A big part of her education is coming from stories that Kilgore residents tell.
“They are always wanting to share Kilgore with other people,” she said. “People from Kilgore are very proud of the history that we have here, and they want to let people know about it as much as possible.”
Trout said they are happy to educate her – “a complete outsider” – on Kilgore’s history.
A major part of her job involves serving as the key contact person for the city’s Main Street program.
Trout said she learned right away that a lot of her efforts will focus on historical preservation.
“Kilgore is rich with history and the feedback we get from the community is to preserve that history,” she said. “In all of the ongoing work we do on these particular (downtown) buildings, we are to try and hold onto as much history while still making it up to the current code that we need in Texas today.”
Renovation of the Texan Theater is a major downtown project. The theater was built in 1931, destroyed by fire in 1942, then rebuilt and reopened in 1944. The exterior of the building had been restored to its original look.
Plans call for the building to be used as a multi-purpose venue for meetings, proms and related events, although the city has used it for some events already, including the most recent KilGogh event.
The restoration project is far from complete, Trout said. Phase 2 work is under way and includes rebuilding the lobby area and restrooms, reinstating the original doors and replacing the heating and air conditioning system.
Even though the renovation project has not been completed, Trout said, “That hasn’t deterred people from having events there and booking future events in there either.”
On May 24, a double feature screening was held at the theater to celebrate National Preservation Month. The event also was an opportunity to raise funds for renovation of the theater and another downtown historic building, the old post office.
Debbie VanDoren said Kilgore is an “exciting place for downtown businesses, especially with all the work they’re doing to try to restore the Texan and looking ahead to more projects.”
Downtown D’Lites, which VanDoren has owned for 6 ½ years, was recognized by the Kilgore Chamber of Commerce as the 2017 Small Business of the Year. This year, VanDoren was presented the Rising Star Award for women in business.
She said the Texan “just adds even more reasons for people to come to Kilgore, even more to do and adds even more to the quality of downtown Kilgore.”
There’s no place like downtown Kilgore for her business.
“Every now and then, we look at locations where we could possibly buy instead of renting, but I really have never seen a location I like as much as where we are,” she said.
“When I drive downtown to our restaurant, it’s the same kind of feeling when I’m driving to our neighborhood at home. It just feels like family down here, with a lot of really good people, good small-town atmosphere.”
The city’s application for the cultural district was submitted on June 15. Trout said city officials should learn in September or October whether Kilgore will receive the designation.
“Cultural districts are special zones that harness the power of cultural resources to stimulate economic development and community revitalization,” according to the Texas Commission on the Arts. “These districts can become focal points for generating business, attracting tourists, stimulating cultural development and fostering civic pride.”
Trout said Kilgore has an abundance of cultural events and facilities that are associated with cultural arts activities – including the Texas Shakespeare Festival, East Texas Pipe Organ Festival, Kilgore College Rangerettes, East Texas Oil Museum, Texas Museum of Broadcasting and Communications, Reel East Texas Film Festival and KilGogh Arts Festival.