Race For Revival

Revitalization, River East rebranding, move into Fort Worth’s historic Riverside district.

The first thing he saw, Pretlow Riddick says, was the scenic bluff off of Oakhurst Scenic Drive and its views of downtown across the Trinity River.  Riddick, one of the latest Dallas real estate guys to traipse over to Fort Worth in the hunt for opportunities, saw past the worn post-World War II-era townhome development on the bluff site that was for sale, and instead soaked in the easy access to the central business district, Riverside Park, bike trails, and hilly sites with trees.

Then Riddick found the nearby Race Street commercial district to the east in the city’s Six Points Urban Village - a triangle bordered by East Belknap, North Sylvania, and Race streets, filled with sleepy storefronts and vacant lots, and close to established neighborhoods like Oakhurst, Scenic Bluff, Sylvan West, and Carter-Riverside, where millennials and others have been buying homes, pushing up valuations.  Riddick, whose Criterion Development Partners of Dallas specializes in apartment and mixed-use projects in neighborhoods close to mass transit, employment centers, and popular amenities, smelled opportunity (even though Six Points’ only transit is bus lines), and not just in the Fuzzy’s Tacos building he ended up buying.

“This was like a little mini-downtown for the neighborhood,” he said during a recent interview at the Fuzzy’s, which was busy with lunchtime diners, including loyalists who make the short drive out from downtown.  “All we need to do is introduce quality multi-family housing.”

If Race Street is a jigsaw puzzle, Riddick, through Criterion, has busied himself in the last two years trying to buy as many pieces as he can, largely putting the property under contract before the acquisitions surfaced publicly.  Including the Scenic Bluff site, Criterion entities have purchased more than 30 pieces on the bluff, along Race Street, and inside the Six Points triangle, according to property records.  Riddick, who declines to discuss how much property he owns in district and what he has under contract, also has several properties in the Race Street area under contract to buy from Flora Brewer, the longtime Fort Worth real estate owner who’s most notably been selling her holdings in the city’s East Lancaster homeless corridor.

Riddick, in the interview, says he plans a 276-unit, high-end multifamily community on the bluff property, with construction starting this year and occupancy expected in early 2017.  Next to the apartments, Criterion plans a 40-60-lot townhome, courtyard home, and single-family development on the northern end of the property closest to the Charleston Homeowner Association gated community.  Criterion hopes to reach agreement with a single-family builder early this year, Riddick said.  He expects the homes to be 1,800-2,800 square feet in size, and sell for between $275,000 and $400,000.

“After the first-phase apartments, the focus will turn to Race Street from there,” Riddick said.  On about 2.75 acres inside the Six Points triangle, Riddick said he plans a mixed-use development including 200 apartments and ground-floor commercial and live-work spaces.  The area generally is bounded by Race, Retta, Plumwood, and Blandin streets, although Riddick said he doesn’t own or control every piece in that rectangle.

Riddick has also moved to put retail, restaurant and office tenants in his commercial spaces along Race Street.  Recent move-ins include The Gypsy Scoops ice cream shop; 97w architects, whose principals moved out of their homes and are now working on various Race Street projects for Riddick; Kwame Baah, a shoe designer whose owner manufactures in Ghana; the Creativity and Wellness Center for art classes; the home offices of Kincaid’s Hamburgers; and other office tenants.  Coming early this year, Riddick said: a pizza restaurant from the owners of the Dino’s Live sports bar on the street.  Dino’s owners declined requests for an interview with FW Inc.

Riddick is actively on the hunt for other tenants.  He has as many as four restaurant spaces available and is looking first for a breakfast joint.  He wants to recruit a bike shop and an entrepreneur willing to open a “co-work” space like one in Dallas’ Gaston Yard, renting space to creatives, salespeople or entrepreneurs.  His Race Street spaces, about 25 percent occupied when he took them under control, are now about 60 percent full, Riddick said.

One of the more interesting spaces available: an old, fire-damaged art deco post office that Riddick bought.  Riddick said he first considered tearing it down, but then decided to demolish only the wrecked roof and retain the walls, creating a compound with an enclosed rear space.  Riddick is marketing the property as a restaurant, with an outdoor market area.  The building has been hosting weekend spring, summer and fall markets, and Riddick says he’s even taken inquiries for rental as a wedding venue.

One of Race Street’s biggest draws is its compact, walkable and bikeable size.  “It’s a very concentrated area,” he said.  “It’s not spread out over several miles or several streets.  We want this to be a place where the surrounding communities will visit on a regular basis.”

The entire area – from Riverside Park to the Six Points intersection, with Race Street in between - is a blank canvas, so much so that even its denizens aren’t sure what to call it.  It’s officially part of the Six Points village, but it’s also commonly referred to as Oakhurst and Riverside, and the commercial district as Race Street.  Riverside Arts District, reflecting the area’s eclectic, artsy color, is another possibility.  And now, River East has bubbled up as a potential brand for the whole, promulgated by Riddick and others.

Criterion’s plans for the neighborhood dovetail with a city-planned $4 million overhaul of the Race Street segment between Oakhurst Scenic and Belknap, expected in two phases beginning later this year.  The improvements will include construction of wide sidewalks that allow businesses like restaurants to establish street-front patios; reverse-angled parking; pedestrian lighting; bike lanes; landscaping; decorative pavement; street furniture; and public art.

Some prospective tenants have asked about the schedule for the street improvements, indicating they may want to wait for the street work to occur first.  But others have decided to jump at the lower first-in rents.  “We’re taking the entrepreneurial firms that can’t afford the Near Southside rates,” said Will Northern, of Northern Realty in Fort Worth, who, with his new commercial agent Michael Karol, are marketing property on the street for Riddick.  “The rents are less, and you have a landlord that’s willing to put up money.”

Julie Markley, who opened Gypsy Scoops on Race in September after a search for a brick-and-mortar location to manufacture the ice cream she had been producting in limited quantities in her food truck, is one who jumped.  She signed a five-year lease at $1,500 a month for her 1,450-square-foot space.  Markley initially intended to open the store for retail hours only when she was there making ice cream, but she says Riddick talked her into regular store hours and she recently expanded her hours until 8 p.m.

The model has been complicated.  Markley says foot traffic has been slower than she expected, but transferring production to the store significantly pared her ice cream costs because she was having to substantially supplement her limited production with purchases of much more expensive Blue Bell and Henry’s Homemade.  It costs her $20 to make a three-gallon tub of her own ice cream, $27 for a tub of Blue Bell, and $50 for a tub of Henry’s Homemade, which she had to switch to after Blue Bell shut down production because of a listeria problem.  Markley, who often caters corporate events, says her food truck can carry up to 22 tubs per gig.

“We can roll through 12 tubs at one gig,” said Markley, who said She’s now switched entirely to selling her own ice creams, with greater production allowed by the store.

Riddick, who wanted an ice cream parlor and has been pursuing restaurant prospects among Fort Worth’s food truck operators, made it easier for Markley to make the jump, gutting the space, fixing the floor, installing the grease trap, putting in bathrooms, and redoing the electric and plumbing at his expense, Markley said.  She focused on the finishes, putting in light fixtures, bar and countertops, and painting the floors.

She estimates she spent only $10,000 of her own money to open the store.  Without Riddick’s help, “I don’t think we’d have been able to do it otherwise,” said Markley, 40, an Army brat and University of Georgia-educated business major who once worked for RadioShack and whose husband is a federal fish and wildlife agent.

Riddick has been quoting retail rents of $12-$18 per square foot and office rents of $12, and offering tenant improvement money to his recruits.  Markley said her $1,500 rent compares to a $2,500- $3,000 range she saw in some of Fort Worth’s hot districts like the Near Southside.

The activity has generated a lot of tire-kickers.  The 97w firm, headed by architects Steven Halliday and Jason Eggenburger, has done about 20 test fits for prospective tenants, including a coffee shop, tea shop, bike store, daycare, farmers market and restaurant in the post office, and other restaurants, Halliday and Eggenburger said.  The firm, which has done several projects for developers Will Churchill and Corrie Watson on the Near Southside including the Cartan’s Shoes makeover, The Space event venue and the incoming Heim Barbecue and Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken restaurants, also did the Gypsy Scoops project and a retail and and office project for Riddick on Race.

Halliday and Eggenburger, who moved onto the street a year ago, say they field questions about street activity and crime from prospective tenants.  “When you leave here at night, it dies down,” Eggenburger says.  A fatal shooting occurred at a motorcycle bar on Race Street in 2014, but that bar is now gone and Riddick has purchased the building and is marketing it for a restaurant or retail user.  “We’ve been here for a year, and we’ve seen nothing” in terms of crime, Halliday said.

Race Street’s activity will only accelerate as more people move into the district with the planned new residential, they said.  “It already has the artists and creatives congregating this direction,” Halliday said.  In the revitalization of such an area, “artists are the first wave, and artists make the area desirable.”

Brittany Elliott and Henry Vasquez are another of the creative types who’ve just moved onto Race Street; the couple opened the Born Late heavy metal record shop in July in a building owned by the Six Points electrician Garland Horn.  In October, they opened a tattoo parlor in the rear of the record store.  Elliott and Vasquez had been selling records out of their house by mail order, and Elliott had been tattooing in Dallas.  The tattoo shop opened late, after Elliott ran into resistance from some in the neighborhood who questioned the Propriety of such a use on Race Street.  Fort Worth Zoning commissioners and City Council members finally allowed the use, but Elliott can’t advertise it on exterior signage.

The record store’s reputation has already drawn members of out-of-town bands, who’ve stopped in while on tour, Vasquez, 48, said.  Elliott, 28, does tattoos by appointment only and caters to a strong clientele, she said.  They say their store fits well on Race, even though Elliott says she wonders whether the couple should have looked longer, given that they can’t advertise the tattoo business.

“I don’t know of a single record store and tattoo shop anywhere in the history of the world,” Elliott says.  “You have a funky and unique street full of eclectic businesses.”

Neighborhood people have been trying to push funky ahead, with the Race Street weekend markets (they’re shut down for the winter), community garden launched in 2012, and “Build a Better Block” events in the fall of 2012 and 2014.  The Build a Better Block events featured pop-up stores in vacant spaces.  The Riverside Arts District, a nonprofit that’s been the point for the events and has building community through arts and culture as its mission, has been working on its bylaws and moving toward creating a board.  “It’s starting to happen,” Debby Stein, the arts district’s founder and “chief improv officer,” said.  Farther west, Scenic Bluff homeowners Kendra and Ben Schalk are heading a committee to promote events at Riverside Park, including a 5K called the River East Race to be held June 11 this year.

The activity has also drawn one other major developer into the picture: Legacy Capital Co.  Of Dallas, which owns 8 acres at the northeast corner of East Belknap and Oakhurst Scenic Drive, including the popular Smoke Pit restaurant.  Legacy, which plans mixed-use on the property and plans to retain the Smoke Pit, is still looking for other pieces to assemble, Peter Aberg, a Legacy partner, said in an interview.

Legacy, which has done a major project with Hillwood in the Alliance Corridor and now is developing the retail portion of the 600-acre Chisholm Trail Ranch in the Chisholm Trail corridor with Stratford Land, began scouting for interior city sites in Fort Worth two years ago, following on the success of revitalizations within Dallas, Aberg said.

One of the first things Aberg says he was told about Fort Worth real estate: “We were told that you can’t go east of the Trinity River.”

“That’s what they said about East Austin; that’s what they said about Oak Cliff,” Aberg said.  “We kind of ignored that advice.”

Aberg has much the same perspective as Riddick on the district’s assets, appreciating Riverside’s simple street grid, short drive to downtown, views, topography, and emerging collection of entrepreneurs.  “It has all the bones in place,” Aberg said.

Six Points doesn’t have anchors like hospitals or other major employers.  But besides the Riddick and Legacy projects, it’s drawing some other traffic generators.  The Travis Academy of Fine Arts – an offshoot of the Travis Avenue Baptist Church that provides arts classes aimed at homeschooled children – plans to move into the Riverside Baptist Church on Race within the next two years, bringing its approximate 1,000 students and staff.  The popular Topgolf plans to open an entertainment complex at Interstate 35 and Airport Freeway.  And Legacy is selling the former nine-acre RadioShack site at Hampton and Pharr streets near downtown; a developer plans a 300-unit apartment project there.

Just taking into account the Riddick and Legacy Oakhurst Scenic Drive projects, “that’s 900 or 1,000 units that will be developed in the immediate area in the next 36 or 48 months,” Aberg said.

Aberg said he’s been trying to finish up any further acquisitions and is in discussion with apartment and retail developers for Legacy’s Oakhurst Scenic Drive site.  Unlike Riddick’s Criterion, which largely develops its own projects, Legacy typically brings in other developers as partners.  Aberg said he expects his project will follow Riddick’s bluff apartments, the city’s Race Street improvements, planned Trinity River Vision Authority improvements to Riverside Park at the base of the scenic bluff, and Topgolf’s opening.  “Our eight acres get into play then,” Aberg said.

With the major planned developments, restaurant and retail users have been sniffing around the bluff.  “We’ve had more interest than we thought in restaurant and retail users,” Aberg said.

Paula Merrell and Franson Nwaeze, who started the popular Chef Point restaurant inside a convenience store and Conoco gasoline station in Watauga in 2003, have purchased a site on Oakhurst Scenic Drive north of the Legacy site.  Merrell said the two aren’t ready to share their plans, but she said, “the Scenic Bluff area is a beautiful area, close to downtown and ripe for development.  We hope to be in the center of all this energy.”

Race Street Getting Small Anchor in Growing Fine Arts Academy

Race Street doesn’t have an anchor like Fort Worth’s hospitals tie-down, the Near Southside.  But a small traffic generator is coming: the Travis Academy of Fine Arts, the K-12 arts school for home-schooled kids that’s become its own nonprofit since the Travis Avenue Baptist Church started it 15 years ago.

The fast-growing Travis Academy, which today has 920 students in classes at the church, plus 30-40 part-time staff, has been preparing to move to the Riverside Baptist Church at the Six Corners intersection of Race, East Belknap Street, and North Riverside Drive since the two entities agreed to a deal in 2014 that keeps Riverside in the building for as long as it wants.  ETA : Probably “a couple of years,” Erik Williams, the academy’s head of school, says.

The academy is embracing its potential role in the Six Points Urban Village’s development of an arts district.  “I think we’re a big part of it, and I’m afraid they’re waiting on us,” he says.  “I’m coming as fast as I can.”

The Plan Renovate the 85,000-square-foot Riverside, including converting gym into choir rooms and a bowling alley into ballet studios, tear down a small building and build a band hall.  The complex will be more than 90,000 square feet at finish.  The 800-person sanctuary will remain.  The project is five phases, but the first phase would enable the academy to move all classes into the facility at the same time, Williams said.

The Money $20 million total, for all five phases, but the first phase is $10-$13 million, Williams said.  The Hahnfeld Hoffer Stanford architecture firm has completed the design, allowing the academy to launch fundraising.

What’s Coming The academy has classes for choir, orchestra, private lessons, community theater and drama, audio and video, ballet, art, computer, photography, band, chamber ensemble, and songwriting and composition.  It also offers core classes in biology, English, history, speech, and Spanish.  Enrollment is 60-70 students per grade, Williams said.  Classes now run three days a week, with 85 of 120 occurring on Mondays.  But they’ll likely expand to five days a week at the new facility.  “That’s the hope eventually,” Williams said.  “We’ll creep into that.”

Growth The academy’s growth has jumped significantly in two years, adding 50-60 students this year.  Two years ago, enrollment was between 600 and 700 students, Williams said.  “We’ve just about filled every class that we had this year,” Williams said.

What the School Could Do for Riverside Parents typically drop their children off at Travis Avenue and then go shopping or eat nearby, Williams said.  Older students typically venture out during breaks to go eat.  The academy has food service at Travis Avenue, but isn’t contemplating it at Riverside, Williams said, meaning more opportunity for nearby restaurants.  Activity on Race Street will “happen quicker” once the academy moves in, Williams said.  “And it’ll flourish.”

Race for Renewal

Interest has picked up in Fort Worth’s Six Corners area, with developer Pretlow Riddick’s planned remake of a Scenic Bluff tract into high-end apartments and single-family homes and substantial acquisitions of property along Race Street in the Six Points Urban Village.  Here’s a look at activity, with Riddick’s in yellow.

1. 3101 Race.  Riverside Baptist Church/Travis Academy of Fine Arts.

2. 3007-09 Race.  New tenants: 97W architects, oil and gas firm, PDQ Temporaries.

3. 2925-2929-3001 Race.  Old post office.  Being used for outdoor Race Street weekend market during spring, summer and fall.  Envisioned use: Market and restaurant.  2929 is vacant retail space being marketed as bar or restaurant.3001 is vacant space being marketed as restaurant or retail.

4. 2919-2921 Race.  Tenants: Greasy Bend Burgers, Race Street Barber Shop

5. 2907-2911-2913 Race.  New tenants: Kwame Baah shoes, The Creativity and Wellness Center, Kincaid’s Hamburgers home office.

6. 2905 Race.  New tenant: Gypsy Scoops ice cream.

7. 2813 Race.  Being marketed for coffee shop/ restaurant/retail.

8. 2719 Race.  Fuzzy’s Taco Shop.

9. 2707 Race.  Dino’s Live.  New additional tenant incoming: New York Pizza

10. 2625 Race.  Palm Tree Apartments.

11. 3000 Race.  Riddick helping market building to users for its owner.

12. 2920 Race.  New tenant: Born Late Records & Tattoos.

13. 2902 Race.  Under contract to Riddick.  Tenant: Self-defense studio.

14. 2814 Race.  Under contract to Riddick.  Tenant: Art studios.

15. 2810-12 Race.  Under contract to Riddick.  Tenant: Tarrant County Democratic Party.

16. 412 N. Sylvania Ave.  Former bingo hall, being marketed as event center or retail.

17. Mixed-use apartments, retail and commercial, in area generally bounded by Race, Blandin, Plumwood and Retta streets.

18. 522 N. Sylvania.

19. Legacy Capital site, mixed-use development planned.

20. Scenic Bluff.  Apartments, single-family homes planned.

21. 400 Oakhurst Scenic Drive.  Site acquired by owners of Chef Point Café, Watauga.

22. 2624-2628 Race.  Vacant land.

23. 2804 Race.  Office tenant.

24. Race Street streetscape overhaul planned by city, first phase between Six Corners intersection and east of Sylvania.

25. Race Street streetscape overhaul planned by city, second phase between Sylvania and Oakhurst Scenic.

26. Riverside Park: Improvements planned. 

Source: FW Inc. research