While the downtown Plano core continues to attract new multistory housing developers, some city officials and developers alike are setting their sights on land to the south.
Developers, such as Trinsic Residential and Toll Brothers, have been some of the first to express interest in key plots of land near Richardson’s CityLine development and where Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s proposed 12th Street station will be constructed.
In Plano’s efforts to push for the revitalization of the area, city officials see the downtown core and the area directly south as falling within a future transit corridor. Most of the properties are within a 10-minute walk of the proposed rail station, which will serve to connect the existing north-south passenger rail line with the proposed east-west Cotton Belt line.
“Back before the DART line came, in the early and mid-’90s, the downtown business environment was not a positive place overall,” Plano Director of Planning Christina Day said. “It’s come a long way since that time, and that was due in large part to pioneering businesses that saw a collaborative effort that came through DART coming in online in the early 2000s.”
The area to the south is lined mostly with single-story warehouse buildings.
The city ultimately hopes developers will come in and replace the blighted buildings with newer, more attractive properties similar to those in downtown Plano.
With land valuations averaging less than half that of the downtown Plano public improvement district, as well its close proximity to future DART stations, some developers have thrown their hat in the ring early.
Setting the stage
Downtown Plano was not always the bustling arts and culture hub it is today.
Since the DART station came to downtown Plano in 2002, housing developments Junction 15, K Avenue Station and the soon-to-open Morada Plano have sprouted up in downtown Plano, along with the restaurants and retail shops lining 15th Street.
And while construction and development within Plano’s downtown core continues, Day says she also sees new growth trending southward.
“It just seems like there’s been a pretty steady interest and a steady flow of projects coming in but more interest to the south,” Day said. “The CityLine project, and now 12th Street because of the activity of DART on the Cotton Belt—those have been major drivers.”
And as DART continues to make progress with the east-west running Cotton Belt line, which will eventually connect Plano with the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, city officials hope it will be a similar catalyst for new growth.
Extending downtown to the south
In May 2016, a housing development proposed by Alliance Residential received approval from Plano City Council to rezone a property at the intersection of 12th Street and K Avenue—adjacent to the site of the future 12th Street DART station.
Currently the site of Plano Marine, a business specializing in selling and repairing boats, the site was full of potential, the developer said at the time.
“The current use made sense at one time but is no longer the highest and best use for the city,” said Nick Wilhelmson, development director for Alliance residential, at the 2016 meeting. “Our project will help extend downtown to the south and will pave the way for additional redevelopment that will truly expand the footprint of downtown Plano.”
Today, a different developer, Toll Brothers, is working to buy the Plano Marine property.
“We are excited about the potential opportunity to be a part of the development for a new community in downtown Plano,” Toll Brothers Apartment Living spokesperson John Piedrahita wrote in an email to Community Impact Newspaper. “At this time, we are not able to further comment until a transfer of sale has occurred. We anticipate developments to occur in the next year.”
However, the Toll Brothers project is not the first in the area south of downtown. Day, the planning director, said market shifts caused by projects like CityLine have spurred production for housing developments like Trinsic Residential’s Aura One90 apartment development, which is located near the CityLine DART station south of President George Bush Turnpike.
The city’s comprehensive plan designates the area surrounding future DART stations as prime for revitalization—facilitating the rezoning process for developers. And this area encompasses more than the Toll Brothers and Trinsic Residential’s projects.
Recent projects to receive council approval that fall within the comprehensive plan’s designated area include a 49-unit townhouse development from InTown Homes, a four-story hotel and a hike and bike trail connecting DART’s 12th Street and Bush/CityLine stations—a project Day said has been in the works for some time.
“[The trail] has been on the master plan for a while,” Day said. “So it will be nice to get that done because it will provide such nice connectivity through the area.”
Envisioning a future downtown
In a city study for its 10-year vision for downtown Plano, the study specifies one of the primary goals is to “use redevelopment opportunities to remove the blighted and underperforming commercial buildings.”
The study also notes the area south of downtown Plano, or the “southern couplet,” tends to be subdivided into smaller lots, and has yet to attract the attention of developers.
“This area is well-suited for small infill projects,” the study said. “The addition of public parking and assistance with street and utility improvements may be the needed catalyst. Bold, more edgy architecture should be encouraged to give the area a distinctive character.”
However, the differences between the northern and southern couplets go beyond visual appeal.
The appraisal value per square foot in the downtown Plano public improvement district is more than double the appraisal value per square foot in the less-developed area to the south, according to a Community Impact Newspaper analysis of Collin Central Appraisal District records.
The appraisal district also assesses the value of a property’s “improvements,” which include building structures and other additions to the land. And with developers constructing multimillion-dollar housing projects in the public improvement district, the average improvement valuation in the district is $72.10 per square foot—nearly eight times higher than that of the area to the south lined with warehouses and other buildings the city sees as suboptimal for the area.
“If you’re looking at high-density apartments compared to one-story, older-style warehouses that are [to the south], I think it’s pretty clear which one of those will have the highest underlying land value because of the potential use,” said Bo Daffin, the chief appraiser for the Collin Central Appraisal District.
Peter Braster, the city’s special projects director, said any new growth for downtown Plano is unlikely to head any direction but south.
“Eastward, we have these wonderful single-family neighborhoods, so that’s not changing,” Braster said. “Westward, you have the freeways, north you have some really great neighborhoods on either side. … The only real way for downtown to grow is sort of southward.”