Taking Initiative: Improvements to area around TCU should help with parking, housing


    The long-held dream of TCU-area residents and university officials of a revitalized and tree-lined Berry Street is a few steps closer to reality.

    Decisions by the Fort Worth City Council last week will allow developers to build town houses, restaurants and shops on the same property, on the south side of the street from about TCU to Paschal High School. Property TCU owns on the north side of Berry Street was rezoned for mixed use in June for similar purposes.

    The changes will allow construction that could bring more housing and parking into the area, said Carol Campbell, vice chancellor for business and administration.

    By combining areas for students in which to live, work, park and shop — a top priority for the university — TCU hopes to make the campus more residential, said Don Mills, vice chancellor for student affairs.

    “This will build the residential atmosphere of our campus, improving safety and creating a nicer edge for the campus,” Mills said.

    Businesses such as fast-food restaurants and hair salons now line Berry Street, but vacant buildings spoil the landscape. Memories of the Colonial Cafeteria, Back Porch restaurant and the Stripling and Cox department store that once kept Berry Street a bustling shopping district have faded since the 1990s.

    “Our campus is so nice,” said Holly Brady, a freshman premajor. “And then all of the sudden, you hit Berry Street, and it’s just not so nice anymore.”

    The movement to revitalize Berry Street began in 1996 when a group of area residents gathered to form the Berry Street Initiative, said Sandra Dennehy, the group’s president. The group aims to make Berry Street more pedestrian friendly with a better balance between cars and pedestrians.

    The university has joined the effort out of safety and marketing concerns, Mills said. When prospective students have wanted to visit campus, the university has given them directions that avoided Berry Street, sometimes down Hulen Street, he said.

    “It has made sense to send them another way,” he said.

    Junior Ryan Foley said the first time he visited campus when considering universities to attend, he was shocked.

    “Although it did not affect my decision to come to TCU, I definitely thought ‘what the hell is this?’” Foley said.

    But progress is beginning to be seen by initiative members and university officials on the street. Fernando Costa, the city’s planning director, said the development will create a pedestrian environment to encourage students to walk to campus and to other stores and restaurants.

    “More students will be able to live on campus, preventing a large flow of traffic into the area,” Costa said.

    Beginning this summer, the city will begin its final step to attract private investors with the addition of a median, landscaping, lighting and trees to Berry Street east from Waits Avenue to west from Forest Park Boulevard, Costa said.

    Dennehy said changes to the street — such as a parking lane, sidewalks and enhanced crosswalks and intersections — will make it more attractive and allow stores and restaurants to front the street and replace parking spaces.

    These changes will balance the flow of pedestrians, automobiles and bicycles on the street, city officials said.

    Some local business managers welcomed the plan.

    “It is pretty dark at night,” said Alex Garcia, who manages the Berry Street Quizno’s Subs. “So changes could improve the security of the area.”

    Keri Ryan, president of the Bluebonnet Place Neighborhood Association, said the decisions were imperative in order to draw in the new businesses required to revitalize the area.

    However, Ryan said she worries about noise and the addition of more late-night bars and restaurants.

    “There needs to be a buffer zone between high-density development and our neighborhood,” Ryan said.

    Jim Johnson, president of the Bluebonnet Hills Neighborhood Association, said he thinks the change will help rejuvenate the area’s aging housing stock and make the entire area a nicer place.

    Like city officials, TCU administrators also hope to use private developers to revamp Berry Street over the next 10 to 15 years. Over half of the 145 properties TCU owns are part of the Bellaire House Condominiums. The university also owns a few other properties on Berry Street that are vacant. The properties can be leased by TCU to other companies for development.

    “The properties that front Berry Street are an investment by TCU to develop commercially,” Campbell said. “We hope to integrate retail with the campus.”

    For example, Campbell said the development on the parking lots surrounding Perrotti’s Pizza will include some retail space on the corners of the lower level, as well as meeting rooms for campus organizations. The cost of development is about $45 million, officials said.

    Foley, a finance and accounting major, said TCU will benefit from a rise in the value of its properties along Berry Street. Students will benefit from increased safety in the area, he said.

    Student Government Association vice president Megan Brown said she has met with developers from Phoenix Property Co. to discuss possible retailers for the complex near Perrotti’s. She said meeting rooms will provide another alternative for students to gather and study.

    “We want something that can be long-lasting,” Brown said, “like a late-night Kinko’s or a real Starbucks.”

    In addition to the complex to be built around Perrotti’s Pizza, a wide range of other ideas was suggested to university officials in response to a request for proposals sent out in June, Campbell said. University officials will now decide which ones they like and combine them, she said.

    “It’s all visions and concepts,” Campbell said. “There is no concrete planning at this point.”

    Campbell said TCU officials will incorporate development ideas into the master plan when they begin revising it this year. The locations of transportation routes, pedestrian walkways and academic buildings will be considered, she said.

    Among the projects, developers suggested buildings such as a conference hotel and a retirement community for TCU property near Berry Street and Stadium Drive, Campbell said.

    “An all-senior condominium complex could be within walking distance of concerts, plays and lecture series,” she said.

    However, Campbell said the university’s primary concerns are housing and parking.

    Dennehy said buildings with apartments and stores will serve the university, its students and area residents.

    “If more students live in the area, they will not seek entertainment elsewhere,” Dennehy said.

    While the City Council has paved the way for development on Berry Street, it is still dependent on private investment, Campbell said.

    “It needs to be economically feasible,” Campbell said. “A third party needs to come in and say ‘Yes, development will be profitable.’ ”

    To provide economic incentives, the city has designated the area a Neighborhood Empowerment Zone, which Costa said will allow the city to waive loans and development fees and to not charge developers taxes for the increase in property value for five years.

    “It could be the difference between the success and failure of a business,” Costa said. “Something that may only look marginally feasible could be extremely successful.

    “The key to development is private investment, and if we don’t see it, we have not succeeded.”

    Coming this spring

    • An apartment, retail and parking complex between Berry and West Bowie streets, and Greene Avenue and Waits Street.
    • About 200 apartments — enough for about 500 residents — that won’t be on-campus apartments.
    • $500 to $800 rent per person.
    • Apartments will be about 80 percent furnished, with all utilities, Internet, cable, phone and washer and dryer included.
    • About 600 parking spaces — for residents and customers — hidden inside the building.

    The rest of Berry Street

    • The city has rezoned the street from about TCU to Paschal High School to allow mixed-use development — buildings that combine apartments, stores, parking spaces and restaurants.