TCU and the 109, a match made in heaven – most of the time

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An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the population of Fort Worth in the first paragraph. It was corrected Jan. 29.

When TCU moved to Fort Worth in 1910 it was a fledgling university of less than 500 students in a city of 73,000. Over the century since, the two have grown hand-in-hand to more than 9,000 students in a city of about a three-quarters of a million.

Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief told faculty and staff at the university’s Opening Luncheon in August that the city valued the strong bond between the two.

“Texas Christian University has always been a major part of the fabric of this city," he said to the crowd. “There is a tremendous synergy between the two that is being appreciated more every day.”

And nowhere in the city is the relationship between university and community stronger than in the 109.

The local economy in some ways ebbs and flows around academic calendars and campus events and the community around the university are in constant contact for better or worse.

Rocky Deutscher has lived in the TCU community for more than 20 years. Her husband recently retired from the university and the two have always been active in the community and with their neighborhood association.

Deutscher said the 109 is a great area to live in and she wouldn’t trade it, but the university does have a large footprint and has to work to show consideration to the people who live on all sides of the campus.

There are good times and bad times when the community’s quality of life is so tied to an institution and the issues can best be summarized as the good, the bad and just a little bit of ugly.

The Good

Drive through the 109 on any given day and university presence is everywhere. There are car stickers and flags, T-shirts, hats and banners. Local businesses cater to students, faculty and alumni and the TCU community plays a big role in the 109 economy. From the university’s effect on the real estate market to a summary of the day’s receipts at an area bakery, the relationship between community and university is mutually beneficial in a lot of ways.

Real Estate in the 109

Sharon Mays is a TCU alum, a lifelong 109 resident and owner of Mays Realty Group on Forest Park boulevard. She has seen the areas around the university grow and change, and makes it her business to know the history and the future of the neighborhoods in the area.

She said going back a number of years, the real estate trend in the city was that 76107, on the west side of town, always outsold the 109. But in recent years it’s been a much closer race and in the last six months, more home sales were registered in the 109, according to the North Texas Real Estate Information System.

Mays said the neighborhoods around campus are desirable to a diverse group of people for different reasons, but a lot of it has to do with location and community.

“Tanglewood Elementary is a big draw and really Paschal High School is as well,” she said. “The architectural style in the neighborhoods is very attractive to a lot of people and the proximity to the cultural district and downtown.”

But one of the best perks of living in the 109 for Mays is being close enough to the university to remain involved and take advantage of what TCU has to offer the community.

“We love being able to ride our bike up to campus,” she said. “We enjoy really top-notch concerts and guest speakers, sporting events and plays. It’s all going on right here and a lot of it is free.”

The neighborhood went through a “sleepy time,” Mays said, during the ‘70s and ‘80s as many of the original residents were aging but the early ‘90s brought a lot of turnover and a resurgence of young families began moving in and renovating many of the homes around the campus.

She said there is a lot of diversity in the 109 as far as house size and price, but most frequently she sees young families, followed by university professors and older couples with grown children who are downsizing to a smaller home.

A growing market in the neighborhoods closest to TCU is parents who have one or more children at the university and the amount that parents are willing to spend has doubled in recent years to an average of around $300,000, she said.

“It’s not like it used to be when I went off to college,” she said. “We were ecstatic to have a dumpy garage apartment, just to be out on our own.”

She said it’s a wise investment for parents though, because they save on paying rent or room and board to the university and the students often take on rent-paying roommates who offset the cost to the family.

“Another factor is that the rental market around the campus is just not good,” she said. “With the exception of some of the newly built rentals near TCU, a lot of the properties are just not kept up very well and students don’t want to settle for that.”

Because of everything the 109 has to offer, the average price for existing homes averages from $130 to $180 per square foot. Homes on the north and west sides of campus are more expensive than south or east and exact location, lot size and view affect the price per square foot as well.

Business in the 109

Total enrollment at the university this year is the highest ever at 9,142. There are approximately 1,825 employees and 523 full-time faculty members who come and go every week—and every one of them has to eat.

At Dutch’s Hamburgers on University Drive, as with a lot of the businesses in that area, the walls are covered with TCU memorabilia and the chairs are filled with students faculty and alumni.

General manager Kay Greenlee said as much as 60 percent of their business comes directly from the university. A teacher for 21 years, Greenlee said she easily transitioned to her new endeavor because really the two aren’t as different as one would think.

“Being a leader is the same whether in the classroom or the kitchen,” she said. “It’s almost like being the principal of the restaurant.”

Greenlee is often out among the customers and knows a lot of them by name. She has formed bonds with a lot of the students, who continue to stop by even after they have graduated.

“The relationships I’ve built here in this community have just been life-changing,” she said. “Like I know every week what day the football guys are coming in and I look forward to it, getting to visit with them.”

She said in the beginning their business was only the TCU crowd, but they have established a customer base in the 109 community as well.

“In the beginning people didn’t know what to make of us and to be honest we weren’t quite sure what to make of ourself,” she said. “But your customers kind of mold you into who you are and I think who we are is a really good burger place where families and students can come and talk, grab a beer if they want – or a milkshake just as easily.”

The only bad thing about having so much of your business tied to the university is the summer, she said, when Dutch’s sees a pretty dramatic drop in sales.

But Grant SantaCruz, operations manager of The Mellow Mushroom on Bluebonnet Circle, said even though the business model for the franchise calls for it to be built in close proximity to a university, the restaurant actually does more business during the summer when a lot of students have left town.

“Probably a good 50 percent of our business is neighborhood and maybe 15 to 20 percent university – but a lot of that is faculty,” he said.

He said on a daily basis they are serving a lot of medical workers from the nearby hospital district and families from the 109 but the restaurant’s biggest nights in sales have always been game nights, and the last three football games at Amon G. Carter stadium have been their biggest nights ever.

One would never know by looking at it now, but the building used to house a Dairy Queen before banker-turned-restaurant founder Kim Slawson bought the property and opened the restaurant in April 2006. The Mellow Mushroom was an immediate success and SantaCruz said there is always a wait for tables on Thursday through Sunday nights because they are packing them in.

He credits their success to the good food and an eclectic atmosphere, a good fit for an area so in tune with culture and the arts.

“And we just have a lot of fun here. At night there is some singing and stuff that goes on – we have a blast.” he said. “It’s saying something that I wake up every day and I want to go to work.”

Katy Neely, manager of McKinley’s Fine Bakery and Café in University Park Village, said in the four years since owner Stacey Rumfeld made the switch from being a franchise owner of a Celebrity café to the current establishment, business has continued to grow and expand beyond the university crowd.

“I think students might represent around 20 or 25 percent of our business right now,” she said. “We used to see a significant drop in sales over the summer months, but that really is not the case anymore.”

Neely said word of mouth and the restaurant’s commitment to using the highest quality ingredients has brought in a lot of business from the neighborhoods but the university culture is still a big part of their identity. She said the restaurant has a strong sense of community and there is nowhere else they would rather be.

“We love it here, love the people – the area,” she said. “We build relationships with our regulars and with the students it’s especially fun when their mom comes to visit and they have to bring her by to check out their favorite spots and we get to meet them too.”

Among the rows of decadent pies and cupcakes you are Horned Frog and TCU football shaped cookies and the majority of the employees who work the front counter are students.

McKinley’s recently moved into a new location in University Park Village that has increased their capacity by 40 percent and improved the efficiency of to-go ordering to keep up with their continual growth.

Neighborhoods in the 109 are rich with unique architecture, old trees and good schools — and the area offers easy access to the cultural district and downtown. Another big draw for a lot of residents is to be a part of the Texas Christian University community. But for all the things that 109 residents love about sharing their neighborhood with the school and its students, there are some drawbacks.

The Bad

Some issues are more serious than others and the intensity varies depending on proximity to the university. Students serve as ambassadors of the university and depending on the individual, can portray a really positive—or a really negative impression of the student body.

Parking

Flip through the archives of the TCU Daily Skiff for any given semester over the past decade and there will undoubtedly be an opinion column or two — or 10 — about how frustrating it can be to find any parking spot, much less a convenient one that is safe from ticketing at the university.

But parking is sometimes just as frustrating for residents who share city streets with students every day and alumni and fans during games or special events on campus.

DeAnn Jones, who handles parking and transportation for the TCU Police said the university currently has around 8,700 parking spots on campus for all types of spaces, but the number constantly fluctuates as construction and expansions continue across campus. She said the stadium renovations took more than 900 parking spots out of commission.

The student population this year is more than 9,100 and there are approximately 1,825 employees plus 532 full-time faculty members.

Jones said that about 8,070 permits have been sold this year for the 950 reserved faculty/staff spaces and 5,061 commuter and non-reserved faculty/staff spaces, but she said some of those permits may be duplicates because some parkers have purchased new cars and so the original permit is no longer valid.

The remaining spots on campus designated for visitors, loading zones, maintenance and handicap permits.

School days find the streets closest the university lined with cars, many of which have a TCU parking pass. But the real challenge comes on game day and increasingly so as the popularity and success of TCU athletics continues to grow.

The Utah game on Nov. 14, 2009, drew more than 50,000 people.

Don Mills, vice chancellor of student affairs, said residents have a legitimate concern when a big game draws a crowd, but said there are only six home football games per season and the city puts up parking signs wherever the neighborhood associations ask.

But Ann Zadeh, a resident of Bluebonnet Hills, said the signs, which she believes are purchased and installed with taxpayer funds, are too few and far between. One neighborhood association representative was told that the city couldn’t afford to put out as many signs as were needed, she said.

“I couldn’t help but think that the university should be paying for some of that, since they are the one profiting off of the game,” Zadeh said.

Sometimes, she said, residents come out to find their driveways blocked by a parked car and there doesn’t seem to be any uniformity to the restrictions around the university. In some ways the differences are appropriate but it can also be confusing, she said.

“Some streets have no parking on one side, others no parking at certain times of the day,” she said. “It has just been handled in such a hodgepodge way.”

Mills said that the university has “zero role” in regulating parking on city streets, but when asked to participate in planning—as university officials were with the installation of meters on West Bowie and the move to prevent students from parking in front of businesses on Cockrell Street—they try to be helpful.

“As far as the games go we do offer shuttles and parking from Paschal High School and McKinney Bible Church to encourage people not to park in the neighborhoods,” Mills said.

Partying

According to TCU’s Office of Institutional Research, 49.8 percent of full-time undergraduate students (a total of 3,791 students) live on campus. That leaves more than 5,300 graduate and undergraduate students living in the communities around the university. Almost 85 percent of TCU students are under the age of 25.

When college students and families try to share a block, sometimes the lifestyles don’t coincide.

Mills said the university has taken steps to ensure that more students are living on campus. With the exception of a small number of non-traditional students and students who live nearby with a parent or legal guardian, all full-time freshman and sophomore students are required to live on campus.

In 2007 and 2008 the university opened four new residence halls on campus at a cost of more than $46 million. But other campus renovations and the transformation of some dorms into office space meant the total number of students who are living on campus has only risen by 635 since the fall of 2005. The number of TCU students living off-campus has risen by 1,336 in the same time period.

Zadeh said a lot of families in the area are not thrilled about the growing trend of TCU parents investing in a home near campus to avoid throwing away money on rent to the dorms.

The home next to hers was purchased by a parent for a female TCU student, who shared the home with several roommates throughout her time at the university. She said there were parties, but they never got too loud or out of control and the student remained in the home after she graduated and just recently married and sold the home to another family.

“It just depends on who the students are,” Zadeh said. “Girls, I think, tend to be more respectful than boys. I have friends who have lived next to a house full of male students and it did not go nearly as well.”

Zadeh said there have been issues with beer cans in yards and babies being awakened in the night that have soured some residents from sharing the neighborhood with students.

Charlie Murphy for example.

Murphy lives on a quiet street in the Arlington Heights area where the houses range from around $150,000 to $400,000. He said that when the house next door to him went up for lease he didn’t know what to expect but when he met his new neighbor he was initially relieved.

The young woman told Murphy that she was graduating from the university and wanted to move a little farther away so she could get some peace and quiet.

But about a week after she moved in, Murphy said, the parties began. The woman’s driveway, which was right outside Murphy’s bedroom window, was a happening place on any given night around 2 a.m. Blaring music, slamming doors and laughing woke him on a regular basis, and when he tried to talk to the new neighbor about it, it only got worse.

“I actually thought I was going to have to try and sell my house,” Murphy said. “It was the most nerve-racking experience I’ve ever had in more than 35 years of being a homeowner.”

Mills said that even students who live off-campus are subject to discipline and the university does not tolerate bad citizenship in its students.

“I don’t blame them for being frustrated, but I want to quickly point out that it is a small minority of students who behave this way,” Mills said. “It’s not the norm.”

“Some do behave poorly,” he said. “And when we know who they are, we do try to deal with it.”

The Ugly

A big source of contention between the community and the university developed several years ago as Chesapeake Energy began preparations to develop the minerals under the university.

The proposed well site, a parking lot north of the stadium, received three drilling permits from the Texas Railroad Commission in November 2007. But in order to proceed with the drilling, Chesapeake needed a special high-impact permit from the city because the wells would be within 600 feet of 40 houses in the 109.

Chesapeake was never able to get all the affected homeowners to sign the required waivers and there was significant opposition from prominent members of the community.

Further complicating the issue, the pipeline plans also required approval by the city council because the lines would cross under city streets. The council declined to approve the permit for the pipeline unless the well site was first approved, which brought the process to a standstill.

In July 2008, Texas Midstream Gas Services LLC (now Chesapeake Midstream LP), bought and bulldozed two homes on South Hills Drive in the 109 to make way for the pipeline that had still not been approved.

A number of neighborhood associations in the 109 came together in an alliance that was led by Greg Hughes, a TCU alum who lives in the shadow of the university.

Hughes said he thought Midstream and Chesapeake were trying to pave the way to an eminent domain claim, but the companies may have underestimated what a public relations issue it would become.

“To come into a neighborhood with bulldozers and level a family home like that—it’s a pretty destructive attitude,” he said.

Mills said the university held town hall meetings and were very open to the community about the plan.

“The university didn’t tear down any houses,” he said. “We worked with Chesapeake, the city and the community and we took the neighborhood’s concerns seriously.”

In early 2009, more than a year after the initial permits were granted by the Texas Railroad Commission, Chesapeake was still unable to gain permission from the city to drill the well or lay the pipeline from the site. The company proposed a plan to the city council in which they would withdraw the permit application for the TCU well site only if the city would approve a master plan for the entire area.

The plan included a total of 90 wells to be drilled on seven well sites, four of them new. Three of the sites required high-impact permits from the council because they were less than 600 feet from a number of homes and businesses, and not all of the property owners had signed the required waiver. Some of those who did told the city council they had been misled.

In the end, the city approved the Chesapeake plan and community and university officials praised the outcome.

“I think the well was a good example of what happens when people are involved in the process,” Mills said. “Drilling was going to bring a significant financial benefit to the university, but there were a lot of concerns in the neighborhood and it became clear that there was not a way to work it out that was going to make everyone happy.”

But some of the residents who were involved in the fight lost faith in the university and Mills said it was brought up by a neighborhood resident again during a recent town hall meeting about the stadium renovations.

“A gentleman made the comment that we weren’t going to listen to them because we hadn’t listened to them about the drilling plans,” Mills said. “But someone else asked him, ‘Did they drill the well?’ and he said, ‘Well, no.’ So we did listen.”

Mills said there is a natural concern in communities that the largest institution in an area is intent on imposing its will on others, but the university does try to engage the community and give residents a voice. But that’s not to say university officials will always agree.

“There are times when there is opposition to something we are doing to improve the university and we choose to go ahead,” he said. “But we want to be sure that people know we do listen and we do consider their concerns.”

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