North Texas has mostly grown to the north of Dallas and Fort Worth for years. But Ellis County to the south is feeling the boom with tremendous growth in Waxahachie and Midlothian, as those cities work to preserve their small-town charm.
The Waxahachie downtown square features the historic Ellis County Courthouse with shops and restaurants that attract visitors.
New homes are going up all around Waxahachie adding to the number of customers.
Smaller towns became even more popular during the COVID-19 pandemic as people sought more elbow room.
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Ellis County Development Director Alberto Mares said his county saw that trend.
“Last year for example because of COVID we were expecting a decrease in permit numbers but actually the opposite happened,” Mares said.
Dallas developer Jim Lake and his wife Amanda Moreno Lake are Waxahachie investors. They renovated the historic Rogers Hotel and other properties in Waxahachie.
“They've made huge efforts to maintain the character of the small town,” Lake said.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is a partner in the last large vacant tract at the Waxahachie interchange of I-35E and Highway 287.
Lake said he expects the Ellis County growth to continue as more residents and investors see the favorable highway links and proximity to Dallas and Fort Worth.
“I think you're going to see more and more people are going to recognize the opportunity,” Lake said.
Rooftops are surging up Highway 287 in Midlothian. Mayor Richard Reno said Midlothian population doubles every 10 years and his city is working to protect a charming downtown.
“We want to preserve the essence and the uniqueness of our city. We think we're different,” Reno said.
A downtown master plan approved two years ago calls for a mixed-use development that keeps historic commercial buildings in place.
Reno said the city recently selected a developer for negotiations on the redevelopment project that includes land and buildings the city purchased for the project.
A new city hall and public safety buildings are included to serve a city of around 80,000 that Midlothian may one day become.
“So we're building for the future now, but we're going to hold on to our values that we have here in Ellis County and Midlothian,” Reno said.
West of Midlothian on Highway 287, the massive Prairie Ridge development is projected to include 4,600 Ellis County homes in the future. It is in the Midlothian Independent School District boundaries, but will be served with utilities by the City of Grand Prairie.
Mares said there is a challenge from so much growth.
“Everybody wants to move to the small town. They like it for the charm. They like it for the schools. They want to have their kids in the best school district. That’s one of the reasons why they move. But, at a certain point you start to lose some of that charm,” he said.
Highway 77 on the north side of Waxahachie hear Highway 287 is just as jammed as many other North Texas commercial state roads.
But I-35E in Waxahachie is getting a complete overhaul and some connecting roads are due for improvements from the State of Texas.
“We’re kind of at their mercy as to when they’re going to expand it,” Mares said.
Other highway links provide access to these Ellis Count cities from the rest of the DFW area and those roads are getting tested as more people move south.
Mares said the Ellis County population is currently believed to be 209,920. It is forecast to top 500,000 by the year 2050.