Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Kennedale Looks to Town Center For Boost

KENNEDALE -- Kennedale is launching plans for a town center that officials hope will give the city an economic face-lift.
For years the city's identity has been tied to auto salvage yards, racetracks and sexually oriented businesses. But city leaders want to set a new tone for development, adding a mix of commercial, residential and recreational uses to a roughly 30-acre site that already includes city government buildings.
"What we're trying to do is get a place that is an attraction that people want to come to, a destination," said Mark White, the interim city manager.
The key is finding one or more developers who will work with the city on a shared vision for the area over several years, he said.
The site of the proposed TownCenter Kennedale -- bordered roughly by Kennedale Parkway, Bowman Springs Road and Third Street -- is already home to City Hall, the police station, the senior citizen center and the new public library.
Mike Soab, the city's economic development director, is talking with several developers about bringing in restaurants, stores, offices, town houses, a park and other attractions.
If successful, officials say, the town center could influence development in the drab business strip along Kennedale Parkway and in other parts of the city.
"We have to make our main thoroughfare reflective of the values of our community," Soab said. "We start doing that by creating a heart of the city, and that's a town center. It raises the bar of expectation of what can be done on Kennedale Parkway."
The city is also considering creating a tax increment financing district to help pay for roads, utilities and other infrastructure for the project. Such districts capture tax revenue generated by new construction or property value increases within the project site.
The motivation: The city's main guide for the project is a 2003 redevelopment study conducted for Kennedale by the University of Texas at Austin's School of Public and Urban Affairs. The study said a town center would "strengthen the sense of civic pride and identity" in the city of 6,150, which has grown more than 50 percent since the 1990 census.
"Currently, there is no 'urban core' to create a unique image for Kennedale," the study authors wrote. "With no other competition, the most indelible impressions one may derive from Kennedale may be those of sexually oriented businesses and racetracks."
Kennedale never had a town square or other well-configured economic center. Its business district sprang up along a railroad track in the late 1800s. After a fire destroyed all but one building in 1908, business migrated to what is now Kennedale Parkway, or Business 287.
Most residents work outside Kennedale, and many do their shopping in Arlington and other cities before they get back home, the study said.
"We need manufacturing, we need retail, we need grocery stores, we need a balance," said Robert Mundy, vice president of the Kennedale Economic Development Corp., which administers a half-cent sales tax for business projects. "We need something that will support the citizens' needs."
Role model: Kennedale follows the lead of several area cities that hadn't had downtown squares but are creating economic focal points.
Soab, who was Colleyville's economic development director before he came to Kennedale seven months ago, helped create The Village at Colleyville with developer Realty Capital Corp. The 30-acre town center, which opened its first building in 2002, has completed about half of its planned 750,000 square feet of retail, restaurants, offices, government buildings, town homes and lofts, Realty Capital President Richard Myers said.
Myers said The Village has a property tax value of about $60 million so far. His advice to Kennedale is to let the market dictate what goes into the town center -- how much retail versus residential, for example.
"The city needs to give the project a little bit of freedom because they're complicated," Myers said.
ONLINE: www.cityofkennedale.com

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Gas-drilling deal should end the Rolling Hills rumors

By putting the ink on what is expected to be a lucrative deal this Sunday, the members of Rolling Hills Country Club -- 97 primo mid-Metroplex acres at Interstate 30 and Cooper Street -- hope to finally dispel the rumors that the club will be sold.
The deal? There's gold under those fairways, or at least something that can be bartered for gold. Drill down roughly 7,000 feet and behold, there'll be natural-gas-rich shale.
This Sunday at 2 p.m., club President Richard Smith and Marsh Operating Co. Vice President W.B. Phillips will sign an agreement for Marsh to explore and drill for gas on the property this year. Given the realities of the natural gas presence in the Barnett Shale, it's as close to a sure thing as this business gets.
How many dollars are we talking here? Smith isn't saying, though no doubt the numbers will leak out sooner rather than later. But the combination of substantial upfront money and follow-up royalties will certainly alter the financial dynamics and long-time stability of the club; so much focus on the possible sale had affected new-member recruitment.
"Widespread reports that Rolling Hills would eventually become anything but a country club put the club in a holding position to solicit new members for almost two years," said Ralph Gilmore, a 32-year member and club spokesman. "The board is anxious to put to bed all the rumors, speculation and newspaper reports of the past year and focus on attracting new members."
Background: Built in 1954 on a former dairy farm in a rural area not then in the Arlington city limits, the club basically fronts on I-30, which did not exist in 1954. As Arlington's population exploded, the appeal of the property to developers grew. Inquiries for possible purchase became virtually an annual event.
The dollars involved also grew -- a reported $24 million offer in January of last year was followed by a midyear $34 million offer, club leadership confirmed.
There was another wrinkle as well. When the city was pursuing the possibility of Arlington's becoming the home of the George W. Bush Presidential Library it became obvious that Rolling Hills was the city's preferred site. The city did not prevail in that endeavor.
Though it's quite likely that the club could have been bought for the kind of money being waved about, the problem was that potential investors basically wanted to make the sale contingent on the getting the proper commercial zoning, which would have also required City Council approval.
That could take many months and was by no means certain. Indeed, it appeared that a majority on the council disapproved of the kind of big-box shopping center proposed. A lingering limbo with an unguaranteed payday would probably be disastrous to club membership.
Though some of the club members were inclined to approve the $34 million sale, the required two-thirds majority did not materialize, and the decision was made to proceed with the gas exploration.
So while golf members may be playing 3-irons around drilling rigs for a while, the era of to-sell-or-not appears over.
And revenues from gas proceeds will likely make the course one of the more appealing and accessible such venues in the region.
Indeed, if an expected explosion of mixed commercial and residential uses occurs in the area as expected -- the club adjoins the Lamar-Collins Overlay District -- then Rolling Hills in the next few years could easily become one of the hottest private club memberships in the region.