Downtown Plano experiences 'regenesis'

Revitalization projects spur business growth within city's historic core

A steady hum of cars rings through the streets of downtown Plano. Pedestrians meander the sidewalks, popping in and out of stores while the occasional bangs and clanks of construction work resonate in the background.

Downtown Plano is becoming a bustling urban village. With eight revitalization projects either underway or recently completed, the vibrancy of the area is expected to increase.

"We have people knocking on our door literally every day who are interested in downtown," deputy city manager Frank Turner said. "It's quite a difference in what the market perception of downtown is today compared to what it was like 15 years ago."

Prior to the 2000s, downtown Plano had lost its significance, he said. Downtown served as a place for local commerce and trade in the late 1800s, Turner said. But when US 75 expanded through the city in the 1960s, businesses expanded outside of downtown.

Even as the city's population exploded, downtown still experienced a period of "disinvestment and decline," Turner said.

The city made aesthetic improvements in the 1980s for Plano's sesquicentennial in an effort to revitalize downtown, but the improvements didn't change the business psychology, Turner said. A R Schell & Son Agency, a family-owned insurance company that has been in downtown Plano since 1930, was one of the first businesses to remodel its building's exterior in the '80s, owner James Schell said.

But even with the aesthetic changes, not much changed in downtown for many years, he said.

"We've had a problem in the past with keeping the retail tenants downtown because there wasn't enough foot traffic and people coming to downtown to buy products and services," Schell said.

Then in the late 1990s, city leaders began to see red; that is, Dallas Area Rapid Transit announced plans expand its Red Line through downtown Plano. City leaders recognized the business opportunities of a rail line and began plans to transform downtown into a new urban center, Turner said.

DART sparks new energy

Eastside Village I, a 234-unit apartment community that also contains 15,000 square feet of retail space, was the first major revitalization project in anticipation of the extended DART line, Turner said. When the development opened in 2001, he said many people were skeptical of the benefit it would bring to downtown.

But more businesses and restaurants began moving to downtown in response to the development and the DART line. The apartment complex was such a success that developer Amicus Partners wanted to do another downtown project, which led to Eastside Village II opening in 2002, Turner said.

When development happens in downtown Plano, it will only spur more development in the area, said Jamee Jolly, Plano Chamber of Commerce president and CEO.

"I think that's just a chain reaction and domino effect that we'll continue to see over the next few years," she said. "People will see downtown Plano as an opportunity."

A mix of younger adults and empty-nesters are moving into the urban mixed-use developments in downtown Plano, Turner said.

"Over the last 15 or 20 years, the population as a whole has become a lot more interested in urban environments," he said. "They like walkable communities. They like to be able to go shop to shop, even restaurant to restaurant or bar to bar."

This trend in urban environments has spurred developments similar to Eastside Village I, including Junction 15 Apartments, a mixed-use development that opened this year.

But the new business culture in downtown has also been notable, Turner said.

Last year, the City Council approved a public improvement district in downtown. Starting this year, the district will collect 15 cents per $100 of a property owner's taxable value based on 2014 assessment values that will fund a variety of improvement projects.

Bonnie Shea, Historic Downtown Plano Association president, said the business culture today is returning to what it was in the late 1800s, which is a network of merchants working together.

"I definitely think that's what's being recreated today: a place where the whole community can come hang out together," she said. "It doesn't matter what generation you're in. In this community, you're going to feel comfortable."

Schell said he is excited to see business owners working together through the PID and new businesses coming in with the new developments.

"There's been a real regenesis in the growth of downtown and the viability of downtown with new tenants and bringing in more shops," he said. "I'm glad to see it finally happen."

Future of downtown

Even after the current revitalization projects are finished, more development will be on the horizon, Turner said.

A proposed rail line running from Fort Worth to Plano called the Cotton Belt may set a station at 12th Street and DART's Red Line.

This station could spark another development influx similar to when DART extended its rail line through downtown.

Turner said he also sees development opportunities along J and K avenues, which run parallel to the DART rail line.

The city is conducting a parking study to see how it can alleviate parking congestion as more developments open in downtown, Turner said. He said the city might consider options such as using valet parking in the future.

Turner said the city is learning lessons through downtown's revitalization and seeing how to become an urban community.

"Downtown kind of lost its relevance to the community," he said. "It was the beginning of the city, but it became forgotten. But over the last 15 years, it's reasserted itself."



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