| by Samantha Calimbahin with Kacie Galloway |
From atop the hill at the intersection of Heritage Trace Parkway and Interstate 35 West, the Fort Worth skyline comes into view 10 miles to the south, but turn west, and what was once a couple of small neighborhoods and horse ranches is now a sea of suburban homes. Along a stretch of Bonds Ranch Road, swaths of private acreage have been sold, cleared and leveled for new construction. Stoplights, water lines and wider roads have been added in anticipation of even more growth in the areas around Saginaw, Haslet, Westlake, Keller and Roanoke.
People have been moving to the Alliance corridor and north Fort Worth area for more than a decade – the driving force being jobs. The recently opened Facebook data center and other proposed developments show signs this trend will continue. With affordable housing, a moderate commute and large business parks in Westlake and Alliance, it goes without saying that the north Fort Worth area is a significant draw for many families as well as businesses. However, while residential communities have expanded significantly over the past decade, the area has been sorely lacking in convenient and diverse shopping, dining and entertainment. That is, until now. (Hello, Alliance Town Center and Presidio Junction.)
And while it may seem as if north Fort Worth is just now starting to become a destination, Robert Sturns, economic development director at the City of Fort Worth, says the “Alliance boom” isn’t so much a recent phenomenon. Rather, it’s the result of careful planning by visionaries like former Mayor Bob Bolen and Ross Perot, Jr., founder of development company Hillwood, which owns the 18,000-acre, master-planned community, AllianceTexas. According to Hillwood, AllianceTexas is responsible for an economic impact of approximately $64 billion.
“It is very uncommon to have an area of the city that’s experienced that kind of growth – all different types of growth, being business, retail, residential – it all seems to come together at Alliance,” Sturns said.
Developments in the Works A number of factors come into play in Alliance’s favor, Sturns says. Among them – proximity to Alliance Airport, availability of land and affluent residents. But it’s Hillwood, perhaps, that remains as one of the area’s most influential players, bringing a streamlined approach to development in Alliance as a whole.
“Anytime that you have one main company that is really taking the lead and involved in the vision, I think that’s helpful in keeping a consistent idea of what the development should be,” Sturns said. “If you have that one large player that’s guiding things, you don’t have a lot of hodgepodge development.”
Hillwood’s key to success? One word: planning.
“We have planned and planned and replanned many times,” said Bill Burton, executive vice president of Hillwood Properties.
Development of Alliance really began around the late 1980s with the construction of Alliance Airport, Burton said. The airport, coupled with the BNSF Intermodal Facility built later, “changed the whole dynamics and trajectory of our development,” Burton said, creating connectivity between Alliance and the world, from the West Coast to Asia. Growth in logistics and industry gave rise to residential growth, which then gave rise to retail. Between July 2015 and July 2016, the Tarrant County population increased by more than 35,000 people, and with the waves of new residents finally came a wave of development.
Hillwood is responsible for one of the first retail projects to break ground in the area – Alliance Town Center, home to a Kroger Marketplace, Sam Moon, Cinemark XD, Haverty’s, JCPenney, Rooms to Go, Mi Cocina, Chuy’s, and Plucker’s Wing Bar, to name a few. In total, it’s home to more than 39 restaurants, 41 retail shops and is still growing, with new restaurants, luxury apartments and parks and trail systems rolling out in multiple phases. The mixed-use project has recently debuted several comprehensive medical facilities, including full-service hospitals and emergency rooms. When the project is complete, it will feature up to 2.5 million square feet of Class-A office space, hotel and conference venues and extensive residential options for individuals and families.
But Hillwood’s Alliance Town Center isn’t alone. Across the highway sits the new Presidio Junction, which has added more than 60 tenants since it opened and is anchored by a Costco Wholesale, Target, WinCo Foods and Main Event. There are the staples – think Starbucks and popular fast food chains, and there are also more unique offerings like Texas’ first Chicken Salad Chick location and Daiso, a popular Japanese value store. Gone are the days when local residents had to drive all the way to Southlake or downtown Fort Worth for their weekend errands.
Even the beloved home furnishing store IKEA is vying for a piece of the action in north Fort Worth. The Swedish company submitted a proposal earlier this year to build on the southwest corner of North Tarrant Parkway and I-35W. Construction on the 289,000-square-foot store and 900 parking spaces could begin in the summer of 2018, creating 500 jobs during the construction phase and 250 once it opens, according to a news release. Day trips to Frisco for sheepskin rugs, classic bookcases and Swedish meatballs will be a thing of the past come 2019, when the store is set to open.
Another developer, NTP 35, is aiming to further expand the opportunities in north Fort Worth, planning a mixed-use project anchored by the proposed IKEA. The development will include 75,000 square feet of Class-A office space, 66,000 square feet of retail/commercial space and 48,000 square feet of restaurant space, which could further diversify the offerings in the area.
About eight miles north, across from Texas Motor Speedway, the Champions Circle development is in full swing as well, with the 18-hole Golf Club at Champions Circle already drawing visitors. The 500-acre site will feature a Tanger outlet mall — set to open in late October of this year, just in time for holiday shopping — as well as restaurants, hundreds of new apartments and much more. The Tanger outlets will feature 75 different brands, including Banana Republic, Children’s Place, Express, Gap, H&M, Levi’s, Nike and Restoration Hardware. All of this will be located right beside the recently opened Buc-ee’s Travel Center, a Texas-sized gas station and convenience store chain that has earned a revered cult following thanks to its always-clean restrooms and extensive food, beverage and gift selections.
“Everything points to [Alliance] being a high-growth area for us,” Sturns said. “I don’t anticipate anything slowing down that growth.”
A Place to Play, Work and Live Embracing the latest trends in urban living and wellness, area developers have pursued options focusing on convenience, sustainability, quality design and active, social living. This is especially apparent in the commitment to accessible wellness activities and venues, from carefully designed outdoor spaces to extensive medical facilities. The newly opened 14-acre Bluestem Park at Alliance Town Center was designed with help from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and showcases more than 500 native species of trees, shrubs, grasses and flowers along walking paths and a peaceful stream. Other family-friendly outdoor activities, such as Food Truck Fridays and outdoor concerts, help draw locals outdoors to the 7-acre pond at Prairie Vista Park.
North Fort Worth has more options than ever when it comes to choosing a place to live. With the increasing demand for well-planned housing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, construction will likely not slow down on these developments any time soon. In fact, Tarrant County had the sixth largest population increase in the country last year, and the Dallas-Fort Worth area had the second largest increase (the city of Houston led the nation in population growth).
In addition to the shopping and entertainment, other important services are now easily accessible. Several new health centers, such as Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital and Medical Center Alliance, provide high-quality, full-service medical care within a quick driving distance.
In addition to appealing to potential homeowners, the developers behind the master-planned Alliance Town Center have tapped into unique features to appeal to discerning business-owners. Offering build-to-suit and campus sites with two-story and mid-rise designs, the LEED-certified office spaces are drawing a variety of small and large companies to the region. The extensive retail developments are also promising thousands of new full- and part-time jobs in north Fort Worth, both during construction and after stores open. In addition to the hundreds of promised jobs coming along with the IKEA store and surrounding development, the Tanger outlet is set to generate 900 or more positions in retail.
While there are still several acres of mesquite-dotted prairie left in north Fort Worth, new developments are rapidly transforming the region. It won’t be long before the area gets its own trendy hashtag and starts drawing city-dwellers outside of their bubble to the north side of town.
“It’s very important how each piece fits together to build this community,” Burton said. “Whether it be a residential or corporate community, it’s knitted together.”