Can Race Street become Fort Worth’s next hot urban village?
$5.6 million project may help

As Fort Worth continues to grow vigorously at its suburban edges, neighborhoods such as Race Street serve as reminders that forgotten enclaves in the aging city center can be renovated in ways that appeal to new residents.

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The Race Street area, also known as Six Points Urban Village, is next in line to receive funding for infrastructure and aesthetics under the city’s urban villages program. In all, about $5.6 million is scheduled to be spent over the next year or so on improving traffic flow, sidewalks, landscaping, lighting and other outdoor furnishings.

Henry Vasquez speaks bluntly about the east Fort Worth neighborhood where he runs a small business.

“This whole neighborhood needs a makeover, and I’m looking forward to it,” said the operator of Born Late Records & Tattoos, at 2920 Race St.

But Vasquez, 50, who is also a heavily-inked rock ‘n’ roll musician, also believes that when the new Race Street gets here — perhaps becoming the city’s next hot neighborhood, like Magnolia Avenue or West 7th before it — places such as his vinyl shop can provide a little extra grit and character.

The first phase of construction is scheduled to begin early next month, and the details will be discussed at a community meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday at Riverside Baptist Church, 3101 Race St.

“There’s a lot to discover here,” said Vasquez, who plays drums for two bands: Blood of the Sun and Saint Vitus.

He and his partner, tattoo artist Brittany Elliott, opened their store about three years ago and have maintained a steady business while other restaurants and stores have come and gone.

“There are a lot of interesting little shops here,” he said, “and some of the best food I have ever had in my life I have eaten here.”

Vasquez enthusiastically supports the plans of developer Pretlow Riddick, president of Dallas-based Criterion Development Partners, to build two loft-style apartment complexes in the area.

With 276 units and 23 townhomes, The Scenic at River East is already open for business and overlooks the Trinity River and downtown. That complex is accessible by Race Street, but it’s also west of Sylvania Avenue and a bit outside the boundaries of what is traditionally considered Six Points.

Criterion’s second complex, a 181-unit, mixed-use community with room on the ground floor for storefronts, is under construction at 2814 Race St., smack-dab in the middle of the planned urban village. Work is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.

Riddick “is thinking big,” Vasquez said, “and I have no doubt that what he is planning to do will happen.”

If all goes as envisioned, the new multifamily homes will provide additional pedestrian traffic for several already-popular eateries in the area, including Fuzzy’s Taco Shop, Gypsy Scoops ice cream, Tributary Cafe and the New York Style Pizza place, which also happens to feature Chicago-style hot dogs and sandwiches.

Several smaller business, including studios, a dog grooming place, a doughnut shop and barber shop, also speckle the area. The Palm Tree apartments near Race Street and Sylvania Avenue has 24 units where formerly homeless people can live for nominal rent with the help of federal vouchers.

Some residents and business owners interviewed this week on Race Street said they dislike the vagrant activity that sometimes takes place in vacant lots and behind old buildings in the neighborhood. But others say such activity is normal in a city center and poses no threat to passers-by. They predicted that as the area fills with new residents and thriving businesses, the perception of danger will subside — just like it did years ago on Magnolia Avenue and more recently in Fort Worth’s South Main area.

The area has gone by many names. On city documents, it is often referred to as the Six Points Urban Village — so named after the six-way intersection at Race and Belknap streets and Riverside Drive.

Others simply call the whole area Race Street, as a hat tip to the main road that cuts through its center.

It can also occasionally be referred to as River East, after the apartments under construction as well as a planned music venue in an old, burned-out post office. And a handful of residents think of it as an extension of the Oakhurst neighborhood next door.

According to the city’s Six Points Urban Village plan, about $5.6 million will be spent on improvements between Grace Avenue and Holden Street. Those improvements will feature wider sidewalks, protected bike lanes, on-street parking, pedestrian lighting, trees, signs, modernized bus stops and street furniture such as benches.

The improvements aim to not only beautify the area but also slow traffic to make pedestrian activity safer, city officials said.

The improvements are funded through $1.5 million in federal funds, as well as about $4.1 million from the city’s 2014 bond fund.

Construction is expected to begin April 2 and be completed in about seven months.

Phase 2 of the construction would include improvements to the Sylvania Avenue/Race Street intersection as well as more sidewalks, bike lanes, parking and lighting. It also includes pavement striping Sylvania Avenue between McLemore Avenue and the Texas 121 frontage road. That phase is expected to begin in September and be finished by March 2019.

The beginning of the work finally comes more than a decade after the city created a master plan for the area. Those efforts were interrupted by the Great Recession and other city needs that turned out to be more pressing.

The project also needed time to get buy-in from surrounding property owners who had concerns about how the plans might raise property values, or perhaps create land uses they didn’t want.

“It’s much easier to develop something on new green space that has never been developed, rather than fixing things on top of aging infrastructure,” said Councilwoman Ann Zadeh, whose district includes the area. But Zadeh said the interest from developers such as Riddick helped keep the project on the drawing board.

Riddick said the city’s commitment to pay for the street improvement motivated him to press forward with his plans.

Riddick said the city’s commitment to pay for the street improvement motivated him to press forward with his plans.

“There are some great neighborhoods in that area, but there just hasn’t been that sense of place. But it’s going to happen,” Riddick said. “People can go to restaurants or a music venue, and they will have easy access to work downtown.”

Race Street probably won’t be quite as popular as the larger Magnolia Avenue, or the West 7th Street with its ample new construction. But it doesn’t have to be just like those redevelopment projects to be successful.

“Race Street was never a hot commercial area,” said Libby Willis, who lives nearby and served on the committee that created the Six Points Urban Village master plan in 2007. “But it’s an asset that can tie the past, present and future together and it’s just 2 miles from downtown.”

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