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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Race Street developers sprint toward success

Race Street stands to become another Magnolia Avenue or West Seventh Street, a strip of trendy shops and restaurants riding Fort Worth’s mixed-use development wave.

At least that’s the hope of Brandon Hancock.

“We envision the street coming alive with restaurants and different businesses that make it unique,” said Hancock, development manager with Dallas-based Criterion Development Partners LLC, which is building a 276-unit apartment complex at 952 Oakhurst Scenic Drive on the westernmost edge of Race Street overlooking Riverside Park north of downtown.

Also on Criterion’s plate is a 180-unit, mixed-use project east of the Oakhurst location that merges residential and retail in what would be the city’s next example of new urbanism, which combines residential, retail and other uses in walkable neighborhoods.

“We want to bring that urban setting back to life. There’s so much potential there,” Hancock said.

Another developer agrees.

“The sky’s the limit,” said Jay Johnson, development specialist with NRP Group LLC, which developed Race Street Lofts in 2010 after tearing down an apartment building and other structures that once stood in its place. Johnson grew up near the neighborhood and said he is happy to take part in its revitalization.

“We planted a seed and it’s taking root,” said Johnson. He credited Fuzzy’s Taco Shop at 2719 Race Street and Mamma Mia Italian Grill and Pizza along nearby East Belknap Street for doing business in the area several years before redevelopment talks began and proving that new businesses could succeed.

“We saw it as an emerging market back then, and it’s proven to be just that,” Johnson said.

Julie Markley agrees. When she opened Gypsy Scoops ice cream last September after serving as a caterer, she sensed potential foot traffic for the business next door to Race Street Lofts.

With only two employees and a modest 1,400-square-foot space, Markley banked her dreams on a five-year lease and hoped for brisk business.

“We’re in it for the long haul,” said Markley, who sank her own money into opening the shop. She hopes that streetscape improvements, including new sidewalks and lighting under the city’s Six Points Urban Village Master Plan, will increase foot traffic and cast new attention on the neighborhood.

Six Points, one the city’s 17 mixed-use districts known as urban villages, is located where Race and Belknap streets and Riverside Drive intersect.

Public art proposed for the area also could enliven the neighborhood, Markley said.

“It’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of time,” she said.

Sharing that optimism is George Palmer, whose Greasy Bend Burgers opened in late 2013 to diners craving cheeseburgers and a sense of community.

“This used to be a nice, hopping place back in the ‘50s and ‘60s,” Palmer said of the Riverside area. Though he grew up in Cleburne, Palmer said he remembers grabbing burgers and ice cream and bowling in businesses that once stood in the Riverside area.

Hoping to bring back some of those experiences for a new generation, Palmer secured a personal loan and opened the burger joint, which has since drawn many regular customers.

“It was just word of mouth,” said Palmer, who is excited by what he sees in surrounding blocks.

“With multifamily going up on Belknap [Street] and Topgolf, there are lots of things happening in the northeast corner of Fort Worth,” said Palmer. The Topgolf driving range-restaurant entertainment venue is expected to open near the intersection of Interstate 35 and State Highway 121 later this year.

Such activity is expected to accelerate as the city pursues neighborhood improvements as recommended by a design workshop held a year ago. The workshop was sponsored by a national organization of urban designers, developers and planners known collectively as the Congress for the New Urbanism. A key recommendation was to extend Race Street streetscape improvements being made between Holden Street and Grace Avenue west to Riverside Park.

The first phase of those improvements between Grace and Holden were about 60 percent complete late last year, with the second phase of Six Points streetscape improvements expected to be finished late this year.

Meanwhile, Criterion plans to begin construction on the 180-unit, four-story mixed-use property in the summer, with completion expected by mid-2017.

“Those take longer because you have to build garages,” said Hancock, comparing the simpler Oakhurst apartment property with the mixed-use Race Street project, which includes apartments and garages as well as retail.

“We love Race Street,” Hancock said. “When the city comes through with the public improvements – wider sidewalks, additional lighting – we think it’s really going to make it feel like a great street, more of a destination.”

Other businesses support that vision.

“There’s a lot of potential here,” said John Perez, who has watched Race Street flourish after opening Born Late Records and Tattoo last summer. Co-owners Henry Vasquez and Brittany Elliott leased the 1,600-square-foot space at 2920 Race and Retta streets due to its location and increasingly eclectic assortment of shops.

“Greasy Bend Burgers seems to be doing good business across the street, and our customer traffic has really picked up,” Perez said.

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