Revamping Downtown? Thoughts on Courier Article

I subscribe to McKinney’s Community Events Newsletter sent out by American Towns and I was particularly interested in this post that I saw in the newsletter that arrived yesterday:

“McKinney Looks To Revamp Downtown” 

Written by Marthe Stinton, it looks like this article was actually published through the McKinney Chamber of Commerce’s web site on Friday, August 20th. 

(Correction: This article was published by the Courier Gazette on August 20th.  I think that somehow it ended up on the Chamber’s website here and then was rebroadcast to American Towns through the Chamber’s RSS feed.)

The article largely talks about the creation of a Town Center Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone #1 and the technical funding elements of that zone, plus another zone around the airport. You almost have to have a full understanding of the city’s long-term plan for downtown (contained in the Town Center Study) to really understand everything that it says and that is an understanding that I lack. I have tried to read the Town Center Study but I got distracted looking at maps for the proposed downtown parking garages.  I then wrote to somebody in the city to try to get a “dumbed down” version that I might be able to understand but I am assuming that that request was simply too complex (no satire intended).  Any tone of frustration in my “voice” here is just that there is so much information that I can’t digest it.  I have faith in our leaders but I sure would like to know more specifics about what they are planning. One of those big graphic billboards that show a picture of what the final product will look like would be exceptionally helpful.

What I found interesting in this article were a few specific lines.  I could easily be misinterpreting something, so, for anyone familiar with Gilda Radner’s character on SNL (way, way back), I apologize in advance if this post is more like one of Roseanne Roseannadanna’s segments. These lines, however, left me with a whole lot of questions:

“there are a lot of areas that need to be cleaned up … The targeted areas are the cotton mill area and the flour mill area … the reconnection of the town center to Old Settlers Park and the potential developments around that industrial area will serve as a long-term central transportation hub.   

“The new developments would highlight the area across SH 5 on both Louisiana Parkway and Virginia Parkway and would continue the downtown feeling of the square.”

“The projections included in the report assumed construction of more than 2.5 million square feet of additional non-residential development within TIRZ No. 1, along with construction of an additional 520 housing units.”

Ignoring the bit about the long-term central transportation hub (because I have no idea what that means), this sounds like it is a bigger project than I had previously thought.  The area of the flour mill is just across McDonald Street from the square and that makes sense that the downtown shopping district would expand to include it because there are businesses there now and it is easily walkable from the square. It has not been promoted well in the past but that is fairly easy to change practically overnight.

The biggest problem that exists on McDonald at the Louisiana crossing towards the Flour Mill is the congregation of day laborers by the gas station.  I know that these men are just there to work and are extremely hard-working men, not there for nefarious reasons, but several people I’ve talked to that only occasionally come to visit the square are leery of crossing at McDonald because of them.  There is just something in our collective psyche that concerns us about able-bodied men appearing to loiter.  Not saying if it is right or wrong.  Is that part of the “clean up” or does “clean up” really mean just making the area prettier (better sidewalks, potted plants, etc)?

Settler’s park is not far from the square and there are some cool events held over there but it has remained somewhat separated from the square due to low visibility and some deeply engrained local myths of security concerns. I’ve been there once but I honestly couldn’t tell you how to get there from the square without googling it.  There is an idea in McKinney that the residential area to the east of McDonald is unsafe but the truth is that there is a very small area in which that may be true and the vast majority of the area surrounding the park is every bit as cute and historic as the Historic District is to the west of the square. But how do you fight the perception?  Is that part of the Town Center Study? Are we finally going to see a concerted effort to get people to appreciate the neighborhood that really is there instead of fearing the mythological neighborhood that really isn’t? And how is that going to happen? 

The Cotton Mill is a gorgeous renovated building popular with photographers and not far from the square but it would definitely be a “bit of a jog” from downtown parking.  There are some interesting shops along McDonald between the Cotton Mill and the square, Colmenero Mexican Imports and D&J Pottery spring to mind, but not enough to encourage walkers between the two. 

There is something in the Town Study about increasing the walkability of Highway 5.  I’ve never been clear on what that entails exactly. I’ve always assumed it just meant the area across McDonald on Louisiana and Virginia.  But 2.5 million square feet of additional non-residential development? That businesses.  That is a LOT of business space. Does that mean the area around the Flour Mill?  Or all the way down McDonald to reach the Cotton Mill? Or both?? And it’s not like there are a lot of empty storefronts.  Sure, there are some, but, really, this area has been built out for years. Where is this going to go? Does walkability of Highway 5 mean all of Highway 5 from the square to the Historic Cotton Mill?  I haven’t heard the words ’eminent domain’ but I would not be surprised, or even necessarily unsupportive, if I did.  If what I am thinking is anywhere near target, property in that area is currently desperately undervalued and knowing more specifics would help people make better educated guesses as to which properties stand to realize substantial increases in value.

And 520 additional housing units? In a recent  DFW Reporting article, local entrepreneur and City Councilman Don Day had mentioned that there is a lot of demand for residential loft apartments around downtown and that he thought that we would see that coming in the next couple of years.  I had wondered at the time where these lofts would be since we really don’t have anything that could remotely be translated into residential lofts at the current time. 

Apartment dwelling near downtown has been a curious situation to me.  We do have several apartments within walking distance of downtown.  Lamar Plaza is the only one with a web site but there are several others – Benge Hill, Kentucky Place and Tennessee Place to name a few.  Rents in these apartments are surprisingly cheap, as low as $500 a month in some cases, and I have wondered why there hasn’t been more demand driving those rents up even though these are older buildings without a lot of modern amenities.  To rent a house near the square, at least one in good repair, seems to average around $1,200.  I’ve seen it as high as $1,600.  Is there enough demand to fill that much rental property? I wouldn’t think so as it stands right now but that is an incredible amount of space they are talking about.  I’m sure  a lot of demand is anticipated from what is to come but that brings me back to exactly what is coming?

A thought crossed my mind reading this article … could this mean a single development like Watters Creek where there are lofts and shopping mixed in the same space? Still, 520 units.  That’s really, really big … isn’t it?

So, I may be a complete ignoramus and everyone else knows the answers to these questions.  If so, tell me where they are!  I guess I’ll be taking another stab at reading the Town Center Study.  If I figure anything out, I’ll post about it.  If there is an easier way to understand, in real, concrete terms, what is going to happen, please let me know.

Update: I think I may have just found what I was looking for.  There are pdfs on the City site that include drawings. Yea!  See Workshop 2: Transit Village on City site. But are these plans or the results of brainstorming sessions? 

Another update:  It turns out that there is an invaluable resource at the city … Jennifer Arnold, Planner II – Long Range, of the McKinney Planning Department.  She is very knowledgable on the Town Center Study and is ready, willing and able to answer any questions anyone might have regarding the Initiative.   She also maintains an e-mail list for sending out meeting notices, project updates and the quarterly Town Center Connection newsletter.  If anyone has questions about the Initiative or would  like to get on a list to get up-to-date notices regarding it, please use the resources below:

Jennifer Arnold, (972) 547-7407,

Town Center Study Initiative web site

Past Issues of Town Center Connection newsletter

Until next time,

Happy Shopping!


3 Responses to “Revamping Downtown? Thoughts on Courier Article”

  1. Vesta

    OK, I’ll take a stab at a few of these items:
    1. I have officed in the Flour Mill for years, so I have a lot of experience on “that” side of McDonald. The day laborers need to be confined to the beautiful day labor area that was built just for that purpose. I understand why they stand along Louisiana, but it is very uncomfortable for women to walk that gauntlet. I know for a fact that this issue is “on the radar” of the city council members. I have confidence that the issue will be part of the “cleaning up” of that corridor. I also know that a literal “cleaning up” is also in the plans. The idea is to extend all of the nice sidewalks and planters and signage and lamp posts from downtown, across McDonald, down Louisiana. Not sure how far, but it would be nice to take it all the way to Old Settlers. That is a great park, and we spend much time there in the summer. It’s the best swimming pool for kids in McKinney. We need much better signage from downtown to the park, because it’s not intuitive. You can’t just drive down Louisiana and hit the park, as would make sense. You have to cut around the Flour Mill.
    2. Lofts in downtown. There are currently two or maybe three people living above the retail establishments downtown. I have talked to someone who has lived there for over ten years, and they said that there used to be quite a few more people living downtown ten years ago. Not sure why people aren’t choosing to live there any more, but there are living spaces available that aren’t being used. So it’s not just an issue of availability.
    3. Transportation hub. My understanding is that IF the City of McKinney would get on board (with a contribution of a portion of sales tax), then the DART system could/would be extended up from Dallas all the way to Sherman (I think Sherman; this is off the top of my head). That would create a transportation hub right there at the intersection of Louisiana and McDonald. Our little bus system could plug into that intersection (it may already) and all of a sudden McKinney would have a much closer relationship with Dallas, for tourism and jobs. It would be an incredible boon for McKinney. We just have to get on board. So to speak. Oh, and this could also plug the Cotton Mill into downtown. No one is going to walk that distance, but if they could hop a train, no problem.
    3. I don’t know what I think about the McDonald corridor. On the one hand, it could definitely use some spiffing up. On the other hand, I love so many of the businesses in that corridor that could very easily be priced out if the area were gentrified (like La Salvadorena and Cookie’s). So I think it’s a delicate balance that needs to be struck, keeping the current small businesses in the conversation from start to finish. And don’t say eminent domain around me. Please. 😉
    4. Safety. In all my years in the Flour Mill, I have never, ever felt unsafe. I keep an eye on the monthly police reports, and there are a few pockets ON BOTH SIDES of McDonald that get a little hinky in the middle of the night. But we live in a remarkably safe town, in my opinion. I have no qualms about my daughter spending time on THAT side of town. Jeez, people. Broaden your horizons a little. You’re missing all of the best food in town. (This isn’t directed at you, Beth.)

    I hope that helped a little!

    • Beth

      That actually helped a LOT! Thank you so much for taking the time to respond.

      I didn’t know that people were allowed to live in the businesses downtown. It seems like such a natural thing (and desirable) but, you know, Tracey bought Diggin’ It on Tennessee and was told in no uncertain terms that she wouldn’t be given a Certificate of Occupancy if she planned to use the attached house at living space. I really don’t understand our zoning.

      Someone recently did a poll about if people would be willing to pay more in school taxes to have smaller schools and all I really could think at the time was how I’d be more on board with a sales tax increase to bring DART up here. That would be so wonderful. We would love to be able to go down to Dallas occasionally for the Meyerson or the theatre down there (the name escapes me at the moment) but it is just too far to drive and then worry about parking. I’m sure the sentiment goes both ways.

      On safety, that has really been bugging me. Cindy Johnson, over at Chestnut Square, recently had to send out a letter to refute rumors of crime in the area of the market. Apparently someone with the werewithal to do so decided that the farmer’s market needed a uniformed officer on duty and people just assumed that this was in response to crime. She pulled the police reports for the area for the past year and went over each call to dispel the rumors. The worst one was someone who claimed that she had been assaulted at the ice cream crank off but officers finally determined that what had happened was that someone said something to her that she considered rude! I was there that day and everyone was hot and some were testy. There’s no way of knowing if it wasn’t just a case of two rude people being rude to each other.

      I just recently discovered that Cookie’s exists and have been dying to get over there and try one of their tacos. I haven’t had real AUTHENTIC Mexican food like that in over 15 years.


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