Construction on the first of three projects to breathe new life into Frisco’s Rail District is starting in September.

City Council approved a construction contract in August to begin redeveloping part of the Rail District, a mixed-use downtown development that includes retail stores, restaurants and housing. The contract signifies the result of an ongoing process that started in 2018 when the city’s downtown master plan was updated.

Council members awarded a $5.1 million construction contract to XIT Paving and Construction Aug. 16. The contract designates Elm Street from 1st Street to South County Road in Frisco as the construction site, and it will transition the roadway into a more pedestrian-friendly area.

Sidewalks and existing pavement will be replaced. Additional on-street parking, new streetlights, water and wastewater improvements, and a new traffic signal at the intersection of 5th Street and Elm Street will be added, according to council meeting documents. Construction is expected to take six months.

Work on Elm Street is the first of three Rail District redevelopment projects expected to take place in Frisco’s downtown. The other two projects, which are focused on Main Street and building a 4th Street plaza, are expected to start in late 2023, Frisco’s Assistant Engineering Director Jason Brodigan said.

After considering different design options for the three projects, Donny Churchman, CEO and president of Nack Development, said it was nice to see the city moving forward with construction on Elm Street. Churchman and Nack Development have worked in the Rail District for about six years, opening several key projects in the area, such as Patios at The Rail, The Terrace and the upcoming Frisco Brewing Company.

Redeveloping Elm Street and developing a 4th Street plaza will be more conducive to commercial businesses in the area, Churchman said.

“They’ve done a really good job on intertwining all the different comments and then coming back with new iterations,” he said. “Where they’re at now—I think it’s a pretty good place.”

Once construction is completed on all three projects, it will be important to “activate” those spaces, Churchman said. Developers can move into the space with food, shopping and entertainment options to do that.

With wider sidewalks, more parking options and more places to walk to, such as the 4th Street plaza, the area can bring more people and more businesses to serve them, Churchman said.

“It’s going to be tremendous for the Rail District,” he said.

Elm Street work

Project construction typically starts about six weeks after City Council members approve the contract award, Brodigan said. During that time, the contract is signed and the construction firm starts preparing for the project.

At this point it remains unclear how construction will progress on Elm Street, because the city hired the contractor after council approval on Aug. 2, and those details are being worked out, Brodigan said. The contractor can make changes to the construction plan, Brodigan said.

The project involves a lot of pavement replacement, Brodigan said, so certain parts of the road might be closed for a period of time.

“[We] can’t do construction without being a little disruptive to normal operations, but we’re going to always try to minimize that,” he said.

Redeveloping the Rail District

Frisco’s Downtown Master Plan emphasizes improving walkability and planning for a plaza along 4th Street, according to the master plan document.

To help achieve this, council members approved a contract with Kimley-Horn and Mesa Design Group to create conceptual design documents for downtown street improvements in September 2019. Initial design concepts focused on improving Main Street and Elm Street, and adding the plaza, according to city documents.

Representatives from Kimley-Horn and Mesa Design Group presented design updates during council work sessions in June and August to gather feedback. Each section of the project was budgeted at $5 million a piece, for a total of $15 million. But by the end of the August work session the price tag had tripled, totaling nearly $45 million.

The price increased after council members told Kimley-Horn and Mesa Design Group to fine-tune what they wanted to see in the project. The firms illustrated the original $15 million would not provide all the features the council wanted.

Kimley-Horn and Mesa Design Group firms also presented three scenarios for redeveloping Main Street during the Aug. 2 work session. Scenario 1, which council members chose to move forward with, would be a complete build-out from First Street to County Road. All parkways, medians, street pavement and intersections would be made new at a projected cost of $22.7 million.

Overhead electrical power can be buried underground from 5th Street to County Road for an additional $1 million per block. Council members chose to move forward with this design for an additional $3 million.

The pricing is an early estimate, according to the Kimley-Horn and Mesa Design Group representative. It factors in a 20% construction contingency and 15% inflation contingency.

“To me, this is the right thing for our city,” City Council Member Angelia Pelham said during an Aug. 2 work session. “I just think our downtown is so incongruent with the rest of the city, so if this closes the gap, I think this is a great investment.”

Looking ahead

The cost estimates of the projects increased in accordance with the increased scope that Frisco council members requested, Brodigan said.

“As a result of that discussion on Aug. 2, we’re gonna have to go back and add some scope to [Main Street and 4th Street Plaza],” he said.

Brodigan said he expected construction on the two remaining projects to start in fall 2023, after designs have been completed. Both projects are about 60% through the design phase, he said. The two remaining Rail District projects, 4th Street Plaza and Main Street, will probably be bid together as a single project, he said.

Fourth Street Plaza is slated to cost $16.4 million, which includes plans for a stage, a water feature, a gateway monument, restrooms, sidewalks, pavers, decorative walkways and more.

Council members discussed funding options for Main Street and the 4th Street Plaza projects, including potentially holding a bond election in May. Paul Knippel, director of engineering services, noted the city has enough funds to move forward with construction of the first scenario on Main Street and the 4th Street plaza, but it would mean other projects, such as the planned widening of Lebanon Road from Teel Parkway to FM 423, might be put on hold. That project is in the design phase.

If a bond election is called for and passed in May, there would not be a need to pause any projects to fund the redevelopment, Brodigan said.

Kimley-Horn and Mesa Design Group plan to start on the detailed design of the first scenario for Main Street and come back to present new renderings and updated cost estimates.

During the Aug. 2 work session, Mayor Jeff Cheney and council members noted the significant increase in price estimates since the last meeting, but they agreed to move forward with the designs of the Main Street and 4th Street Plaza projects.

“Rather than piecemeal something together ... let’s laser-focus on the Rail District here,” Mayor Jeff Cheney said at the work session. “Let’s do our part to get this going and magnify it here with these projects.”