From his office above Mi Cocina, Frank Bliss takes in the view of the popular downtown he helped create in Southlake Town Square.
With 1.5 million square feet built today, half of which is retail, restaurants and entertainment, it would be easy for Bliss to sit back and enjoy the outdoor shopping and municipal mecca that opened 16 years ago.
But Bliss is not one to rest on his laurels.
The president of Cooper & Stebbins is a driven, detail-oriented man who takes the visions in his head and makes them reality.
For him, Southlake Town Square is far from finished. Diners eating tacos in Mi Cocina have no idea that above them, Bliss is tirelessly working on renderings for the next phase of the project.
Over the next few years, Bliss said, Town Square will add up to 700,000 square feet of offices, retail, restaurants and high-end residential.
“To really do a true downtown, a true mixed-use central business district, you want that mix of retail, restaurant, hospitality, entertainment, residential and services,” Bliss said. “All those things that give you the regular ebb and flow during the day.”
People flock to Town Square from across Northeast Tarrant County and beyond.
“Some of the stores here you can’t find in other areas unless you’re going to Dallas,” said Katie Scheuerman of Keller, sitting on a shaded park bench. “They’ve got individual stores here. I like how it’s community-oriented where they are involved in their community and their residents. They do all their festivals. You get that small-town vibe, but you have the access to the big-city stores.”
Town Square’s success also created a steady stream of nearby developments, including the Shops of Southlake, anchored by the always-busy Central Market grocery store, and Nordstrom Rack; the trendy Park Village, home to Fresh Market; and Carroll Pointe, which features a Chuy’s Tex-Mex restaurant and other retail.
“Southlake pitches itself,” said Christy Hammons, owner of Greenway Carroll Road Partners L.P., who developed Carroll Pointe, which is 84 percent leased and will soon have a Lo-Lo’s Chicken and Waffles and The Gents Place, a high-end barbershop.
“It’s a very high demographic. The retailers love being in Southlake,” Hammons said. “The city of Southlake has done a great job on their zoning and their ordinance requirements. It’s tough on us developers, but you can see the quality as it develops.”
Southlake’s sales and property tax rolls have soared as a result.
The city of roughly 27,000 people collected a record $20.5 million in sales tax in 2014 and is on pace to shatter that mark this year, according to the Texas comptroller. In 2010, Southlake collected $13.5 million.
By comparison, Watauga (population 24,000) brought in $4.5 million in sales tax in 2014, and Keller (population 42,000) collected $8.9 million.
Southlake added $77.6 million in commercial construction in 2014 and $36.9 million through July in 2015, according to the Tarrant Appraisal District. Commercial construction now makes up about 20 percent of the town’s $5.5 billion taxable value, according to TAD.
Going for offices
Construction will start this month on a six-story, 160,000-square-foot office building on the Texas 114 service road on the north end of Town Square. It’s the first of its kind for the city, and getting the deal done took a decade of negotiations with Granite Properties, he said.
The sleek office building also includes a parking garage with room for 500 vehicles.
“It’s proven really, really tricky to get the economics and the design right so that you could build a building that fits in Town Square, but that still has the right bones to be a true functional class A office building,” Bliss said.
Shannon Hamons, director of economic development in Southlake, said his department has shifted its focus from retail to corporate office. The Granite Properties office tower will be the first of many such projects he expects to locate along Texas 114 in Southlake.
“These are going to be pretty high-paying jobs, and they will be coming to our Town Center to eat and shop,” he said. “It’s like another built-in audience for our retailers.”
The next phase at Town Square also includes 30 new, much larger brownstone homes. Two of them will be custom-built on larger lots that could accommodate up to a 10,000-square-foot home with a pool and a five-car garage.
For those who want a simple lock-and-leave lifestyle, there will be a new 36-unit condominium building with $1 million homes averaging 2,100 square feet.
“This is meant to be an elegant address, luxury living right in the middle of Town Square and 10 minutes from the gate at DFW Airport,” Bliss said. “There’s just nothing else like it in the market.”
The five-story condo unit will break ground in March, with the first units ready for move-in by summer 2017.
Residents who live in Southlake Town Square will be able to walk to 30 restaurants within Town Square and a multitude of others nearby. Besides the huge Central Market and more personal Fresh Market, a Trader Joe’s is also within walking distance.
“How many places in the world can you walk to that many grocery stores, that many restaurants?” Bliss asked. “The demand for living in this environment has been getting stronger and stronger.”
This November, Town Square will dedicate a new city park near the brownstones that will feature an oval grass area perfect for throwing a Frisbee or having a picnic, Bliss said. The park will have red oaks on the perimeter and a native-Texas arboretum in the center.
A sense of place
For Bliss, the secret isn’t just finding the right tenants, it’s creating a sense of place, something other projects want to emulate.
At Park Village, caddy-corner to Town Square at the corner of Southlake Boulevard and Carroll Avenue, a towering fountain inspired by the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas will become the place to congregate. The water feature won’t be ready until December, but many of the center’s shops and restaurants already opened, including Michaels, REI and Orvis.
By year’s end, the 185,000-square-foot project will be 70 percent leased, said Kelly Corbet, corporate marketing manager for Excel Trust, who manages the property.
Longtime Southlake residents will remember this site as the Prade property, owned for decades by Chauncey Prade, a pilot who used a diagonal grass runway to take off and land aircraft right over Southlake Town Square.
As available land got snatched up around Town Square, developers looked east toward the hill at Kimball Avenue where Christ Our King Church had stood for 30 years. Developers with Strode Property bought the land, tore down the church and excavated the site to put it at street level.
Today, the church and the hill are replaced with flat land that’s home to Kimball Oaks, 126,000 square feet of retail that includes BJ’s Brewhouse, PGA Superstore and Bassett Furniture.
“It’s now becoming a tax-generating property for our community,” Hammons said.
A balancing act
While Bliss welcomes the competition from these new projects, there are also concerns that the market is being oversaturated. A drive along Southlake Boulevard is a study in retail development, thick with restaurants and big-box stores such as Home Depot and Costco.
Judging by the traffic — Southlake Boulevard is always packed — and sales tax revenue, the “build it and they will come” approach is still going strong in a city that has added 7,000 residents in the past 15 years for a population of roughly 27,000.