What Does Kelly Allen Gray Want?

Fort Worth City Council member, long wary of developers, says that’s exactly where she should be.

It’s no secret that Fort Worth City Council member Kelly Allen Gray is skeptical of developers. The YMCA is underway on building a new branch in her district, but years off its original hoped-for schedule after Gray blocked the funding mechanism for the land purchase – a deal to sell the old branch for an apartment development that Gray thought carried too much risk of going substandard. “I am very protective,” she says during a Sunday afternoon drive around her Southeast Fort Worth District 8, chock-full of opportunity for redevelopment but also known for bloody fights over such proposals. “So, because of that, I have this reputation.” She uses Dollar General and Family Dollar as examples of proposals she often sees but can’t get excited about. “My people deserve more, so if that’s the best you have to offer me, don’t come see me.”

What should be here? “If you look at District 8 in its entirety, and that’s all the way down I-35, there’s lots of land available for the right type of development. When you’re looking inside the loop, what has to be developed is more community-friendly development.”

What does community mean? “Small businesses. Maybe some midsized retailers. It just has to make sense. People who live in Southeast Fort Worth buy goods and services just like anybody else. They are expecting quality goods and services. In District 8, we have lots of sit-down mom and pop restaurants that are amazing, and the community supports them. What we do not have is a chain sit-down restaurant. When we are in community meetings and we are talking about economic development, that is the thing that is said over and over again.”

Renaissance Square has chain restaurants, but that’s not what you’re talking about. “They’re fast-food restaurants. I’m talking IHOP or Applebee’s or Chili’s or Olive Garden or Red Lobster. Any of those types of restaurants would do well. I just know one would do well to be the kick-start for two, to be the kick-start for three.”

Where could they go? “You could look at Evans and Rosedale. You could look at Renaissance Square. You could look along East Lancaster. You could look at Texas Wesleyan. You name it.”

On a developer’s proposal to turn Evans-Rosedale’s Pinkston mortuary into an arthouse cinema (See story here). “I think it’ll be a great asset if they can truly do what they’re saying.”

Filling the Texas Wesleyan-Evans-Rosedale-Renaissance Heights triangle. “I think you have to have that next big first where someone steps out. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a big-name retailer. Maybe it’s just the next Brewed or Avoca. You look at Texas Wesleyan and the forgivable loan we gave to fix up the storefronts. [The university drew restaurateur Ben Merritt with a biscuits-and-burgers concept he’ll open this spring.] And that drives more interest.”

On why a proposed hotel wasn’t necessarily the best use for Evans-Rosedale; the city is hiring a master developer to plan lots the city owns there. “They didn’t go away, but we said, is that really the highest and best use? And it being in the urban village, it has to have some particular building concepts, and I think the developer just wasn’t quite ready for that piece.”

Berry/Riverside intersection, the next big thing until its developer bought the nearby Masonic Home site and facilitated its development into Renaissance Heights. “I think what you’ll see as Renaissance Heights builds out, the focus will shift back to Berry and Riverside,” which is in a tax increment finance district and falls beneath a city Neighborhood Empowerment Zone that offers fee waivers. “It has all the economic incentive tools we have available in our tool shed.”