Dare to dream.
That's what one of the fastest-growing cities in North Texas says it's trying to do, in an effort to revitalize its historic downtown.
With so many people moving to Collin County, so much of the city of Allen has been built in the last few decades.
"The city says Allen’s population growth grew for four straight decades by over 100%. In the last decade, by 93%. It exploded," said Murry McKenzie, vice-chair for the newly formed Downtown Steering Committee.
But downtown has existed for more than 150 years.
President Theodore Roosevelt rolled through the streets of downtown Allen when he visited in 1905. The first-ever train robbery in all of Texas happened in downtown Allen, too.
“It’s funny, we just had a new name neighbor that moved in and they said, 'I didn’t even know Allen had a downtown.' OK, a lot of people don’t,” said McKenzie.
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There is history here the city says it doesn't want to leave behind.
“We really want to honor our history as we go through this process,” said McKenzie.
That's why the Allen mayor has created the Downtown Steering Committee, made up of Allen residents appointed by the city council.
For the last several months, they've spent thousands of hours on research figuring out how to transform downtown into something they say can better represent the growing city that Allen has become. Read here to learn more about their progress.
“Like many suburban areas in DFW, when new housing development speeds up, that development rarely happens in the middle of the city,” said McKenzie. "With the exception of the library and senior center, nothing major has happened in the downtown area."
With Allen playing host to several large scale community events throughout the year, including the Rotary Club Christmas Parade in downtown, there's a need for development to help accommodate families.
“I think what tends to happen in suburban areas, people are busy. Lots of families with children, many were both parents work. So when you have those opportunities, people tend to gather in their little pods in their neighborhoods," McKenzie explained. “To be able to have a central location people can gather is really important. People are looking for those types of opportunities but we don’t really have the area right now that speaks to that in downtown. So we hope to develop some of that."
The committee's research included data gathering on current ownership, zoning, finances, economic development, community outreach and potential grants.
Some team members also paid a visit to a dozen other suburban cities like Carrollton, McKinney and Garland, which each have been on their own journeys with city center projects.
“It wasn’t like we were trying to copy what they did but we were trying to understand what they did, what was working well, what was really successful about their development and how did that influence us,” said McKenzie.
The committee has hired consulting firm Stantec to help guide the city of Allen through the planning process and draw up future plans.
“One of the things we’re really excited about is our consultant team – one of the principals involved with that is the former director of planning for the city of Dallas. He was there for many years and was involved in projects like Klyde Warren Park and uptown developments,” said McKenzie. “We are really excited to have that kind of experience that’s brought in here. It’s a very different model and they’re very understanding that suburban community like Allen is completely different.”
McKenzie said the city of Allen sees the importance of having a vibrant city center as something that could be a key to economic success and quality of life.
“Since Allen is nearing full population and nearing build out, we decided it would be a really good thing to look at the downtown and to try to build a sense of community in the center of this great city.
While still in the very early stages of planning, some possible ideas listed on the committee's website include walkable streetscapes, public gathering spaces, cultural and arts facilities, as well as more retail, restaurants, and mixed residential opportunities.
But the city is leaving that to residents to decide.
Throughout the month of February, the committee will host a series of community feedback workshops for residents to share their ideas on how they want to see downtown transform. Click here for a full schedule.
The committee also created a website, www.downtownallen.com, with a survey and feedback form for residents to fill out online if they can’t attend in person.
There are also planned meetings with downtown business and property owners, an ideas session with high school students later in the semester, and a possible community event in March featuring a live drawing of these ideas in real-time.
In June, McKenzie said the committee will present a set of plans and drawings to the city council to see which one fits.
But it will be years before we see any of those ideas become a reality.
“This particular project is not just about meeting the needs of the new residents. It’s about providing a place in the middle of the city that is going to provide new opportunities and amenities for the existing community as well as the new residents," McKenzie said.