South Main Street, long known for transients and abandoned buildings, appears to be getting its groove on.
The area just south of downtown Fort Worth is quickly becoming a popular hangout, and signs of new development are everywhere along a milelong stretch of one of the city’s oldest streets, between Vickery Boulevard and Magnolia Avenue.
For example, a red-brick building at 411 S. Main St. appears to be abandoned. But peek through the cracks in the boarded entryway and you’ll see evidence of construction activity. A cluster of seven small businesses is being built, including an Alchemy Pops frozen treat stand, a Limited Time Offer furniture design center and a Greenhouse 817 floral shop.
Two blocks away, the century-old Sawyer Grocery building has been converted to 14 loft apartments. Another block east, HopFusion Ale Works has become a huge draw on Wednesdays (karaoke night) and weekends.
Next door to the brewery, on an eight-acre lot that once housed a dairy, a 270-unit apartment complex soon will be built.
At a time when new residents are filling developments on the outer fringes of Fort Worth, South Main Street is emerging as an example of how new life can be breathed into an older part of the city.
And people who already live and work there say they can’t wait to watch the neighborhood — which has been severed from downtown by an overhead freeway since the 1950s — transform itself.
‘Like Magnolia,’ but more housing
“I’m excited about what’s coming,” said Macy Moore, co-founder of HopFusion Ale Works.
Moore envisions South Main becoming popular like Fort Worth’s West 7th area, but not as commercial, and hip like the city’s Magnolia Avenue area, but with fewer restaurants and more urban lofts and other housing.
“The vibe is exactly the same as Magnolia a few years ago, but maybe more art-centric,” he said. “I want it to become more like West 7th used to be before it became almost corporate.”
Many people who have been fighting for improvements along South Main Street point to $8.6 million in infrastructure improvements that were recently completed for sparking the activity.
About a mile of roadway between Vickery Boulevard and Magnolia Avenue has been repaved and striped for bicycles as well as cars. Sidewalks have been widened for pedestrians, with a mix of concrete, bricks, benches and young trees. Historic lamp posts are in place to provide an after-hours glow.
Redevelopment work is nowhere near complete. Many buildings remain boarded up or otherwise in need of a makeover. Nonetheless, many people who have followed the yearslong effort to clean up South Main say the area is poised to become the next cool place to live and work in Fort Worth.
The influx of new businesses and residents marks the latest rebirth in Fort Worth’s Near Southside, a once-vibrant area that began to struggle economically in the 1950s when residents began moving to the suburbs. At one time, the area was home to dozens of businesses, including a garment factory, dairy, machine shops and a broom factory, many of them now aging hulks.
Railroad tracks have separated the Near Southside from downtown for the better part of a century, but that separation was made worse by the construction of an overhead highway (now Interstate 30) in the 1950s.
Eventually, Fort Worth’s downtown area was revitalized, particularly with the advent of Sundance Square in the 1990s, and city leaders turned their attention south. I-30, which for years was an overhead freeway leaving Lancaster Avenue in its shadow, was rebuilt as a flyover in 2003. Then city leaders, property owners and neighborhood advocates got together and hatched plans to renovate streets in the Near Southside to attract new residents, restaurants and other businesses.
To date, the renaissance of Magnolia Avenue, which features several dozen popular eateries, watering holes and professional offices, has been touted as the area’s main success. However, many officials believe that a revival on South Main could be even bigger because it would involve the renovation of more old buildings for housing — including hundreds of apartments as well as condominiums and homes.
Art, lofts and brews
South Main is already becoming a busier area. Many public relations, architecture and other firms have located in the area. Plus, several small breweries and even a distillery that makes vodka from black-eyed peas have popped up in recent years.
But while the increased traffic may create the impression that the neighborhood has become attractive overnight, the reality is it took about two decades of planning and nearly three years of road and water and sewer line reconstruction to make the corridor what it is today.
In 2014, gospel and soul singer Leon Bridges recorded his Coming Home record in the old Supreme Golf Warehouse just off South Main Street in Fort Worth.
Mike Brennan, planning director for Near Southside Inc., agrees that the hardest part may be over.
Brennan, who has worked on the Near Southside project for 11 years and previously worked as a Fort Worth urban planner, believes the stage is set for South Main to be transformed into one of the best examples of a mixed-use, urban development in Texas.
He said the key ingredient is a handful of property owners/developers who own many of the most historic and attractive buildings and share a vision about how they should be developed.
“This is not a situation of, if you build it they will come. The people needed to transform the area are already here,” Brennan said. “So let’s make the most of it.”
Eddie Vanston is one of those property owners. He has developed more than 100 residential units in the area, including the Markeen Apartments at Daggett Street and St. Louis Avenue that opened in 2000.
He also renovated the Sawyer Grocery into loft apartments, as well as the Supreme Golf building on Calhoun Street that houses the Shipping & Receiving bar.
That latter building is also where Vanston agreed to rent space to a group of aspiring musicians that formed Niles City Studio, now famous as the place where singer Leon Bridges recorded his Coming Home record.
Vanston says that perhaps the biggest challenge going forward will be for developers to make design decisions that allow the neighborhood to keep its character — something that can be difficult to control if property values rise quickly and some residents or business owners feel pushed out.
“It has become a hot neighborhood, but if taxes go up and rent prices go up too quickly all the people who made it interesting could be forced out,” he said. “That’s the way of the world. Go to Manhattan. It used to have interesting people. Now it’s a ghetto of wealthy people.”
“We’re going to try to hold the line, but taxes go up with prices,” he said. “It could get to the point where you can’t afford it with musicians and artists, unfortunately.”
Meanwhile, people who already live and work along South Main Street say they plan to enjoy the impending renaissance. Moore, the co-founder of HopFusion Ale Works, said he loves the proliferation of art in the area, including many walls covered in murals.
He fondly remembers the day two years ago when he persuaded his landlord, another longtime local property owner named Jesse Stamper, to build his brewery.
“He asked a lot of detailed questions about what our plans were, and whether we would add to the character to the neighborhood or just take from it,” Moore remembered. “I told him I lived in Fairmount just down the street, and I wasn’t going anywhere, and I think that helped.”
Now, HopFusion Ale Works has a 10-year lease. Moore can relax a bit knowing that he and brewery co-founder Matt Hill can probably stay at least that long.
And hopefully longer.
This report includes information from the Star-Telegram archives.
Revitalizing South Main
The city created an urban village program to revitalize older neighborhoods, and South Main Village, which including South Main Street and surrounding streets, was one of the first handful of projects chosen.
South Main Village’s boundaries stretch roughly three blocks in either direction of South Main Street, from Jennings Street to the west to the BNSF Railroad tracks to the east. JPS Hospital and Magnolia Avenue provide a boundary to the south.
South Main Village is one of seven smaller neighborhoods that make up a larger area known as the Near Southside, which includes about 1,400 acres from roughly Forest Park Boulevard to just east of I-35W, and from Allen Street north to I-30.
That area, which includes the city’s medical district and historic Fairmount neighborhood, is supported by a tax-increment financing district, in which city property tax funds generated in that area are reinvested instead of going into the city’s general fund.
A nonprofit organization known as Near Southside Inc. oversees development in the area to ensure any projects within the TIF confirm to the designs already in the area.