When Tamme Leff decided to open a new dining destination in old downtown Frisco with her business partners, she said it was about more than bringing food trucks to Frisco or providing another live music venue. It was about drawing people to the old downtown area.
Frisco Rail Yard opened Sept. 30. The food truck park is in a three-year pilot program to see if such a business could be viable in Frisco.
Leff, who co-owns 5th Street Patio Cafe, said she has a passion for old downtown Frisco and wants to see it succeed.
“I have a huge emphasis on revitalizing downtown,” she said. “[Frisco Rail Yard] brings people to downtown Frisco. … And as they come here, the goal is that they’ll shop at these stores down here and visit those other restaurants that are fabulous and have been here for years.”
Downtown Frisco was the heart of the city when it was established in 1902. Today, the historic buildings that remain standing can present maintenance challenges for businesses.
But with a little time and renovations, Leff and others have taken notice of old downtown again, and the area is in the midst of some changes. Several new businesses, including The Dog House and Sunny Paige, have moved into the area, with more on the way; the Frisco Rotary Farmers Market moved from Frisco Square to old downtown this year; and the Downtown Frisco Merchants Association is ramping up efforts to market historic downtown.
Other businesses, such as Marianas Taco Shop and Lillian Welch, have upgraded to larger spaces within downtown.
Meanwhile, some established businesses, such as Double Dip Frozen Custard, are moving out of downtown. The Frisco Chamber of Commerce is even considering options that could include vacating its downtown location.
“I think the area now is evolving to the point that I don’t know if we’re the best fit for what is going on here and what will be coming in the days ahead,” Chamber President Tony Felker said.
All of this change is part of an evolution of old downtown Frisco that was bound to happen at some point, Felker said.
Catalyst for change
When it comes to business, success breeds success, Frisco’s Development Services Director John Lettelleir said. Though old downtown has had its share of turnover in business tenants, it has numerous examples of businesses, including Blue Door Boutique and Simply Thai Bistro, that have been successful and have remained in their locations for years, he said.
“It just takes a while for [a successful business]to take hold, because it’s not like a brand new shopping center where it’s all new and people see it,” Lettelleir said. “This is a unique area, and trying to get it to redevelop, it just takes time.”
Changes to old downtown could also be a result of the business owners shifting from a passive role to a more active role, said Chris Johnson, Downtown Frisco Merchants Association president.
“What I’ve really seen is a culture change in the minds of the business owners that says, ‘We have some good ideas, and we have some strength in numbers,’” he said.
Leff, who owns several buildings in old downtown, said she has seen business owners update their spaces more within the past few years.
“A lot of the existing businesses have renovated, and that’s been a huge thing,” she said. “Almost every business around my property has renovated their buildings one at a time.”
Johnson said the Merchants Association—which promotes business along Main Street between the Dallas North Tollway and Preston Road—has been aggressive in its marketing efforts to bring more events to old downtown. These events help create visibility for downtown businesses.
“The challenges that you face [as a downtown business]is that it’s difficult to compete with the awareness of Frisco Bridges and Stonebriar Centre,” Johnson said.
Attractions, such as Frisco Rail Yard, could help increase visibility in the area, Johnson said. The hope was that moving the farmers market downtown would bring some awareness to the area on weekends, though the market also struggled with visibility in its location, he said.
Still, Johnson said the Merchants Association wants to encourage and be a catalyst for change in old downtown in hopes of attracting more businesses.
“Without change, nothing would improve, nothing would get better,” he said. “In my thinking, change is good.”
Vision for old downtown
In 1998, the city created a downtown master plan to preserve the heritage of historic downtown while also supporting new development in the area.
The master plan allows for a building to go as high as four stories. The idea for this zoning is that the top floors could be used for residential space and the bottom floors could be used for commercial space, Lettelleir said.
“Just like what’s happening in a lot of downtowns, you want to create what’s called an 18-hour district where you’ve got people out and about for multiple reasons for an extended period of time,” he said. “… By adding the residential, you’re adding that pedestrian, people-centric environment that starts to facilitate development.”
Part of that pedestrian environment could include a pedestrian mall on Fourth Street. A pedestrian mall closes off a portion of a street to vehicles so people can freely walk to the businesses lining the street.
Lettelleir said the city has researched this idea, and the vision could be realized by developers. However, access to funds will determine how long it takes for this idea to come to life, if at all, he said.
As old downtown Frisco continues to redevelop, it will eventually become the point in the city that ties Frisco’s past with its future, Felker said.
“I think it has the potential to really be that cultural center that will be the bridge between historical Frisco and what Frisco will be in the future,” he said.