Monday, June 18, 2007

Kennedale to Develop New Town Center

KENNEDALE -- When you're inviting guests, you want to spruce up the place and then put forth your best hospitality.
That's what Kennedale city officials have been focusing on as they work to get the city on the radar screen of developers; they see a new TownCenter project as the ticket to get it there.
In early May, a few dozen commercial real estate brokers from throughout Tarrant County attended an informal gathering in the community room of Kennedale's new city library, in what can best be described as a come-out-and-get-to-know-us meeting.
The brokers enjoyed a catered Mexican food lunch from Angelo's, one of the few restaurants in Kennedale, a city of 6,150 nestled between Arlington and Fort Worth along Interstate 20. They heard brief remarks from several city officials, including Mayor Bryan Lankhorst and economic development director Mike Soab.
Within a couple of weeks, Lankhorst and Soab were among a contingent of Kennedale representatives who traveled to Las Vegas to hawk the city to retailers and developers at the retail industry's massive International Council of Shopping Centers trade show, where representatives from the country's largest cities flock in an attempt to attract businesses and developers.
Lankhorst said he has received several inquiries from interested developers from their Las Vegas appearance.
Getting Kennedale noticed is getting easier to do now that a multiyear project to rebuild and widen Kennedale Parkway, also referred to as U.S. Business 287, the city's main thoroughfare, from a rural two-lane road to a four-lane thoroughfare with a turning lane, is completed, the men said.
Moreover, city officials have caught on to the "new urbanism" phenomenon that is crossing the nation, making Kennedale even more attractive to developers who want to be able to mix zoning uses, such as houses and shops, on a single parcel.
Fixing the road "has taken away one of the objections standing in our way," Soab said. "Roads are very important to developers. The city wouldn't have had a chance in the world of doing any of this the old way."
Earlier this year, the city's Economic Development Corp. bought nearly 3 vacant acres off Kennedale Parkway that lie between its municipal buildings -- the library, senior center, police station and City Hall. Plans are to spend about $500,000, collected from a half-cent sales tax, to develop a plaza and park area to be called Kennedale TownCenter.
It will feature a walking trail, water feature, gazebo, clock tower and picnic tables, and will serve as the city's core. As soon as a project manager is hired, construction will begin, Soab said. It should be completed by this time next year.
"Town center is a misnomer a lot of times because developers call everything town centers," Soab said. "A town center to me is the new urbanism concept, which is really old urbanism where people live, work, play, eat, relax and share community in close proximity."
Southlake, Keller and Colleyville have town centers that include office, single-family units, stores and shops.
The Economic Development Corp. will add to its holdings in early July when it closes a deal to buy 4 acres adjacent to the TownCenter. It is home to a 50,000-square-foot strip center with a Dollar General and Surplus Warehouse. City officials, though, will be sending proposal requests to developers soliciting ideas on how to redevelop the area with residences, shops and restaurants.
Soab said he wants to attract businesses that provide goods and services that Kennedale residents have never had. For example, there are no professionals, such as doctors and dentists, in Kennedale, he said, and the city also lacks a grocery.
A 2005 retail study conducted by Buxton Co. of Fort Worth shows that there are $1.1 billion worth of retail transactions within a seven-minute drive of Kennedale City Hall.
"We're capturing almost nothing of that," Soab said.
Nita Wilson, president of Kennedale's Economic Development Corp., said that residents have told her they will shop in Kennedale if there are places to do so, and that the city needs to be proactive in attracting retailers.
"If you take pride in your town, you want to support businesses there," Wilson said. "We don't want to be left behind. We need to take advantage of the growth surrounding us."
Kennedale covers only about 6.5 miles, and its retail growth can only come on the south side of Kennedale Parkway, Soab said.
Half the city, or the land on the north side of Kennedale Parkway, is primarily residential. Soab said home builders have about 500 lots in the pipeline. Projections are that Kennedale could triple in population, he said.
But south of Kennedale Parkway is just the opposite. It is underdeveloped, with stagnant growth, yet offers the best opportunities for commercial development, Soab said.
"We're growing residentially," he said. "We're never going to be 100,000 people; we're going to be a small community. But what we're missing are the goods and service you normally find in a community."