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:
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, email@example.com
Until next time,