Village shopping centers in Allen, Fairview move further from Great Recession’s shadow

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Village shopping centers look aheadAs construction machinery moves the earth at The Village at Allen’s dog park, the sprawling shopping destination takes another step forward from the national economic hardships that defined its early years.

The MGHerring Group, the property’s developer, announced last month that Total Wine & More, a large alcoholic-beverage retailer, will construct a building opening at this location in spring 2017. The building will replace the western portion of the Canine Commons dog park.

Like other amenities and businesses at The Village at Allen and its sister property, The Village at Fairview, the developer’s founding partner David Stautz said the dog park was a product of the Great Recession.

Village shopping centers look aheadWhen the first businesses opened at The Village at Allen in October 2008, the U.S. was still mired in the economic downturn that reshaped the retail industry. Some department stores and other large retailers showed early interest in the development, but construction for certain buildings at The Village properties was put on hold while the developer gauged interest from tenants in the depressed market, Stautz said.

One of those buildings was to be built on the tree-filled land on which the dog park sits in The Village at Allen, surrounded by parking lots and businesses, Stautz said.

However, steep economic hurdles prompted the developer to find a temporary use for the land that incorporated the trees already growing in the space, according to Norine Bowen, vice president of property management for the MGHerring Group. A dog park fit the bill.

“We’re very much all about the community, and we wanted to be able to give back as long as we could until [the]retail climate turned around,” Bowen said.

In addition to Total Wine & More, the developer has announced that Tuesday Morning—a Dallas-based national retail chain that sells home furnishings, housewares, toys, fashion accessories and other products—will move into an empty space previously occupied by another business near The Grove outdoor area.

On the Fairview side, two hotels are under construction, one of which is replacing another temporary-use amenity: a sand-covered recreational area with beach-volleyball courts.

Two temporary-use amenities remain: a community garden in Fairview and the eastern portion of the dog park. Both are expected to be replaced at some point by buildings—if and when the right tenant comes along, MGHerring spokesperson Wendy Ellis said.

A flexible plan

The Village properties in Allen and Fairview have since 2008 been among the largest drivers of commercial growth in their respective municipalities.

In Allen, the development has attracted department stores, specialty businesses, restaurants, a TopGolf location, a hotel and the 6,000-seat, multipurpose Allen Event Center.

The Allen Event Center was not part of the original site plan, Stautz said.

“We were very far down the road in our planning,” he said, “And then this guy from Phoenix came and talked to us, and he said, ‘I represent a company, and we want to build an event center.’ And we said, ‘What is an event center?’”

Developers and officials liked the idea, Stautz said. With cooperation from the city of Allen, they made a major change to the site plan, curving the proposed Allen Station Parkway route to the east to make room for the event center and surrounding parking.

The result of the change in plans was a regional hub for concerts and events as well as a home facility for sports teams, including the Allen Americans minor league hockey team and the Dallas Sidekicks indoor soccer team.

The Courtyard hotel, which had been planning to move into the Fairview side, decided during the planning process to move in next door to the Allen Event Center, where the two projects could benefit from a symbiotic relationship, Stautz said.

Local governments had to make other transportation arrangements for the shopping center to get off the ground, he said.

When scouting out locations for the expansive shopping destination, developers had originally looked at a Fairview plot of land southeast of SH 121 and US 75, but the location was seen as relatively inaccessible from the highway, Stautz said.

Instead, the company settled on a 400-acre plot straddling Stacy Road that consisted partly of farmland. To accommodate the shopping center, the municipalities in Allen and Fairview had to cooperate to expand Stacy Road to a six-lane roadway.

Some accessibility inconveniences remain. The main entrances to the shopping areas are from the roadways north and south of the properties. The US 75 access road to the west are is separated from the shops and restaurants by a thin Dallas Area Rapid Transit right of way. Building crossings over the railroad tracks would be impractical, Stautz said, but the developers feel they have sufficient traffic circulation throughout the properties.

The Village at Fairview also made a measurable imprint on the local economy. After businesses started opening in the Fairview property in 2010, the town’s commercial activity spiked.

Gross commercial sales in Fairview swelled from nearly $63 million in 2009, the last full year before the first Village businesses opened, to $178 million in 2012, according to records from the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. Retail sales accounted for 72 percent of the town’s gross sales at the end of that same period—up from 53 percent at the start.

Since 2012, however, gross sales in the town have leveled off.

Economic obstacles

The Great Recession, which lasted from December 2007 to June 2009, played a significant role in shaping The Village at Fairview, Ellis said.

The first business on the Fairview side did not open until 2010 as the developer had focused first on filling spots in Allen. Although The Village at Fairview now contains three large department stores in Dillard’s, Macy’s and JCPenney, developers found it difficult to attract smaller fashion tenants in the post-recession environment, Ellis said.

The Village at Fairview’s original plan set aside a section for fashion retailers, which developers expected would pursue additional storefronts once the economy improved. But that demand for smaller fashion-tenant space in the Fairview shopping center has not materialized, Ellis said.

“What happened in [the recession]really changed the landscape of our business, not only in terms of what tenants made it through that, but what they’re doing now in terms of how they build their stores,” she said.

To account for this lack of tenants in certain portions of the Fairview property, developers have moved current businesses around so more stores would be within walking distance of each other—“the compression plan,” as Bowen calls it.

“That’s an area where we realize we have room for growth: bringing in more of the fashion retailers,” Ellis said. “And again, we have very strong anchors here. It’s the small-shop space that needs to be filled in.”

Prudential Financial, the owner of the two Village properties, could soon sell The Village at Fairview to an undisclosed company if the parties close a purchase-and-sale agreement in place, Ellis said.

Stautz declined to offer specifics, although he said the sale has been planned for years because Prudential intended to hold the property for a fixed amount of time.

“We’re somewhat restricted [in commenting]because we have confidentiality agreements with the potential purchasers,” Stautz said.

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Daniel Houston
Daniel Houston covers Plano city government, transportation, business and education for Community Impact Newspaper. A Fort Worth native and Baylor University graduate, Daniel reported previously for The Dallas Morning News and The Associated Press in Oklahoma City.
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