Reinventing The Rail District: Construction on Elm and Main streets to kick off Frisco’s Downtown Master Plan

Frisco plans to spend $14 million on upcoming projects related to its Downtown Master Plan. Main Street, as pictured, is planned to have its on-street parking removed in favor of wider sidewalks. (Matt Payne/Community Impact Newspaper)
Frisco plans to spend $14 million on upcoming projects related to its Downtown Master Plan. Main Street, as pictured, is planned to have its on-street parking removed in favor of wider sidewalks. (Matt Payne/Community Impact Newspaper)

Frisco plans to spend $14 million on upcoming projects related to its Downtown Master Plan. Main Street, as pictured, is planned to have its on-street parking removed in favor of wider sidewalks. (Matt Payne/Community Impact Newspaper)

Image description
Image description
Construction to make downtown Frisco more pedestrian friendly is planned for this year, beginning with major changes to two streets.

Frisco plans to spend $14 million on upcoming projects. The roadwork, city officials said, will bring the more than 20-year-old, evolving Downtown Master Plan to fruition. Business owners in The Rail District say they hope the plans over the next two years transform downtown into a gathering place for tourism and commerce.

In late spring, work on the city’s plan will begin as asphalt on the entirety of Elm Street is replaced with concrete, said Jason Brodigan, assistant director of engineering in Frisco. On-street parking will be added, and a new traffic signal will be installed at the Fifth Street intersection.

Improvements along Main Street between First Street and North County Road and work on a central Fourth Street Plaza will occur in the fall, according to Brodigan. On-street parking is planned to be removed on Main Street to make way for wider, 18-foot sidewalks. Benches, trees and more aesthetic improvements along the street will be added in this phase.

“The goal has always been to make it more walkable and [to] be a place where people want to go,” Brodigan said of The Rail District. “So everything’s been designed for that purpose.”

Fine tuning

City Council last approved major updates to the Downtown Master Plan on Oct. 16, 2018. Before that, the last update was in 1998.

The approval included the Fourth Street Plaza—a design district that would include several shops and restaurants—and other walkability improvements and mixed-use development plans.

Two key changes are in the works since that last update, Brodigan said. In 2018, the update included plans to remove the median in the center of Main Street to make way for a center turn lane.

Now, Brodigan said the plan is to keep the median, which he said should keep the city from having to close lanes during construction.

In addition, a roundabout was proposed on Main Street at the intersection of Frisco Square Boulevard and Second Street. City officials originally said it would help facilitate traffic flow and prevent a traffic buildup across the railroad tracks.

Plans for the roundabout have since been removed, according to Brodigan.

“When we started really looking into the traffic operation of the roundabout, it wasn’t actually going to have as much improvement as we hoped into the traffic flow,” he said. “Actually, in some ways, it made some of the directions of travel worse.”

Brodigan said updated plans are expected to be presented to City Council either in January or February.

Tamika Bowen, owner of The Good Steward Consignment boutique on Main Street, said improvements to walkability and business facades in The Rail District would elevate the downtown area.

Bowen said her business is fortunate to have a nearby parking lot for drivers to easily access the clothing store. Moreover, she said recently updated signage has boosted organic foot traffic into The Good Steward Consignment.

However, she said she anticipates hiccups once construction begins.

“I think this construction is going to put a little bit of a pause and damper on that,” Bowen said. “But I’m really hoping that post all of the activity, improving the walkability will help make up for it.”

A ‘one-two punch’

Business owners in The Rail District have expressed concerns over the potential for projects in the Downtown Master Plan occurring at the same time.

Brodigan said construction on Elm and Main streets and the Fourth Street Plaza will overlap for a handful of months. Elm Street might see detours throughout construction, but no detours are expected on Main Street.

“We’re still kind of working out exactly how the construction phasing is going to proceed,” Brodigan said. “That’s kind of with some of the details we still have to finish.”

Bowen said on a good day, traffic on Main Street is “backed up.” She said that she anticipates many travelers will actively avoid the area once roadwork is underway.

Bowen purchased The Good Steward Consignment two and a half years ago. A member of The Rail District Merchants Association, Bowen said Frisco entrepreneurs have been working to leverage the communal, rustic charm of downtown.

Regardless, she said the COVID-19 pandemic has made that goal difficult. She said she also thinks roadwork during the pandemic will make keeping the lights on even more difficult.

“I think the one-two punch of not even being fully over the pandemic—and what that’s done to my business—and then going into this so quickly is a little bit rattling,” Bowen said. “I’ve steadied myself a little bit, but [I’m] not completely stabilized, and so the ground is going to start shifting again.”

Kristen Tsu owns the Bittersweet Ivy boutique a few blocks away from Bowen’s business. Tsu said business has been “great” being on the corner of Fifth and Main streets.

Tsu’s boutique also expanded to 1,500 square feet in May, thanks to work from Nack Development renovating the building for Bittersweet Ivy and two other businesses. Nack Development has invested in a number of projects in The Rail District, including The Patios on the Rail mixed-use project.

“We have a loyal customer base, and I feel like our customers will support us during the renovation and know that everything will be better,” Tsu said. “It’ll be more friendly and hopefully bring more business.”

‘I believe in my city’

Shannon Hammond, who owns Countdown 2 Escape entertainment venue on Main Street, is straightforward about whether new accommodations for pedestrians would be worth potentially years of construction.

“It better be,” Hammond said. “In a city where everything is first-class except the downtown area ... I just think it better be worth it because our city deserves this. Our neighboring cities have vibrant, unique downtown areas. And everybody goes to neighboring cities for that.”

Hammond added that she is not particularly worried over whether construction will affect day-to-day business at Countdown 2 Escape. Her business model, she said, requires patrons to plan ahead of their visit to her escape room.

Plans for the Fourth Street Plaza are not finalized, according to Brodigan, who said amenities within the future fixture are “conceptual” at this point. Although Countdown 2 Escape is a short walk away from Fourth and Elm streets, Hammond said she believes the city is well prepared to handle dynamically changing plans.

“I think the city is prepared because they’ve been working on this for a long time. And I love my city. I still think it’s the best place to live,” Hammond said. “I will say, I believe in my city. I’m going to trust that they’re ready to undertake this.”

Kellie Kauten, owner of CBD Wellness-Artistic Organics on Main Street, said she is worried about the city beginning construction plans that are still in flux.

Kauten said she supports making the sidewalks wider and creating the Fourth Street Plaza, but the removal of on-street parking along Main Street in favor of parking on Elm Street does not sit well with her. In her mind, Frisco should strive for something similar to the series of one-way roads surrounding the downtown McKinney square.

“I can’t see how the traffic is going to improve,” she said. “They didn’t create a good flow so that the traffic could pass through ... does [parking on Elm Street] make people want to walk around downtown?

Plans for infrastructure in The Rail District keep changing, as Kauten sees it. She said she hopes the several “mom-and-pop” shops in the area are adequately heard throughout the process.

“The big concern was, ‘Do the merchants have a voice? Are you going to listen to us?’” Kauten said. “Because you can either make or kill our business with this master plan.”

According to Brodigan, the project’s design is meant to encourage drivers to park mainly on Elm Street, then walk through the future plaza for access to the entire downtown area.

Even so, Brodigan said plans for what exactly the Fourth Street Plaza will contain are not set in stone. A conceptual rendering of the future plaza with a large gazebo and seating was first shown in 2018, but Brodigan said it was a “high-level concept.”

“There’s just a lot of details to that,” he said. “Once you get into those details, things get tweaked.”

Brodigan said the city has been collaborating with business and homeowners throughout The Rail District as plans have been refined. He said the city will continue to keep the community informed as construction potentially runs through the entirety of 2022.

“We plan to have a presence during construction to make sure we can help keep the businesses functioning,” Brodigan said. “Although there will be some difficulties along the way, we’re hoping to minimize those.”
By Matt Payne
Matt Payne reports on Frisco City Hall and its committees, Collin County Commissioners and McKinney business. His experience includes serving as online content editor at Fort Worth Magazine and city editor at the Killeen Daily Herald. He is a 2017 graduate of the Frank W. and Sue Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas in Denton.