Rosedale Renaissance aims to turn Texas Wesleyan area into urban village

FORT WORTH -- A major reconstruction of East Rosedale Street, coupled with improvements planned at Texas Wesleyan University, aims to transform the Polytechnic Heights neighborhood in southeast Fort Worth into a thriving corridor.

"There's a lot of excitement," university President Frederick Slabach said of the projects, called the Rosedale Renaissance.

"It's important for Texas Wesleyan. It is also extraordinarily important for southeast Fort Worth. This is the kind of catalyst that can really change a neighborhood."

The centerpiece will be a $1.3 million entryway for the school that will include a clock tower and horseshoe-shaped parking. That part of campus, at East Rosedale Street and Vaughn Boulevard, is now closed to traffic by a decorative iron fence.

Construction is expected to begin next spring.

"The absolute best thing that is going to happen is that we are going to have an official front gate," said Kenneth Jones, chairman of the board of trustees. "It will really improve the look of our campus."

Texas Wesleyan leaders said that the university is on the rise and that much of the momentum centers on the improvements.

Besides the entryway, Wesleyan plans to build a $3 million conference center and renovate a historic building into a business center.

There is also excitement over Texas A&M's recent purchase of the law school.

Leaders point proudly to the latest media campaign: "Texas Wesleyan University: Smaller. Smarter."

An urban village

The entryway, which should be completed by the end of 2014, will complement the reconstruction of a two-mile stretch of East Rosedale next to Texas Wesleyan.

The $15.5 million project will rebuild the four-lane stretch from U.S. 287 to Miller Avenue, creating an urban village with sidewalks, decorative lighting and park benches to attract pedestrian traffic.

Curbs will be moved back for additional street parking.

The project is being funded by the city and Tarrant County, said Jim Walker, Fort Worth's assistant director of transportation and public works.

He said construction is expected to begin next spring.

The project will put roundabouts at Ayers Avenue and Rosedale and at Mitchell Boulevard and Rosedale.

The latter will feature public art commissioned by Texas Wesleyan.

From Nashville Avenue to Collard Street, part of the roadway will get enhanced storefronts to create a "Main Street" atmosphere.

Those improvements will be paid for with a $1 million federal grant and $375,000 from Tarrant County.

Walker said the area's new look will be reminiscent of a college town with turn-of-the-century accents. Kiosks that document the history of Polytechnic Heights will also be built.

"We're excited about it," Walker said.

'Something grander'

The 15,000-square-foot conference center planned for Texas Wesleyan will sit on the south side of East Rosedale.

While it will be used primarily by the Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church, which will lease the facility, pre-ministerial students will prepare for seminary studies there, officials said.

Texas Wesleyan also plans to convert a historic building that once doubled as Polytechnic Heights' City Hall and fire station into a Business Incubator Center, allowing students to intern with and offer consulting services to area business owners, Slabach said.

The timeline for adding the conference center and business incubator isn't finished, according to Texas Wesleyan.

The work at the university and the street improvements are building excitement in the community.

Kathleen Hicks, a Texas Wesleyan trustee, said she envisions Main Street-type redevelopment that attracts pizza parlors, stores and coffee shops.

The university is helping lead the way on the changes, she said.

"That area was sort of forgotten," Hicks said. "The area is slowly but surely turning around."

M.L. Gladney Jr., a student who recently earned a master's degree in counseling at Texas Wesleyan, said investing in the neighborhood sends a strong message to youngsters growing up in Polytechnic Heights.

"It's the idea of seeing something grander," Gladney said.

"For young people, it gives them the idea that they can be a part of it."

A new beginning

Ricky Harden, the owner of a Subway sandwich shop at 3012 E. Rosedale St., said the projects mark a new beginning for the somewhat run-down area.

"You will see Poly begin to raise the bar," Harden said.

Harden's business is in a shopping center in transition.

It sits between a campus bookstore and empty retail space.

He said he prayed that he'd made a wise investment when he opened his business in April 2010.

Harden said he's seen the area at its lowest point and wants to be part of the transformation.

"People wanted to put a face-lift on it and lift it up," he said.

A lifelong Fort Worth resident, Harden said he remembers when areas around Magnolia Avenue and West Seventh Street were wasting away -- much the way Rosedale is now.

Now both are thriving with trendy restaurants and retail.

"I think Rosedale can be the same thing," Harden said.

Diane Smith, 817-390-7675

Twitter: @dianeasmith1