Phase two of Berry Street Initiative to bring new changes to the 109

Phase two of the Berry Street Initiative will soon be underway and will bring with it a rail station, repaved roads new building codes.

Rick Kubes, local business owner and member of the Berry Street Initiative committee, said the group will host a town hall meeting in May or June to get feedback from community members about the initiative’s progress.

An exact date for the meeting has not been set.

Kubes said phase two would cover the area from the GrandMarc apartments to the University and Berry Street intersection. It would consist of changes similar to those made in phase one, which included repaving the streets, moving utilities underground and adding new city signage. The plan also aims to make the area more pedestrian-friendly by covering the entrances to some alleyways.

“This is a very complex three-block area,” Kubes said. “There are many businesses that rely on those alleyways.”

But Kubes said the overall goal of phase two was to make the area friendly to pedestrians who may want to spend the day on Berry Street.

Phase one of the Initiative covered Paschal High School to the GrandMarc. Kubes said one of the largest proposed changes will reduce the Berry Street intersection to five lanes and add a median. The wider lanes and paved brick walkways will add to the pedestrian feel the Initiative is aiming for, Kubes said.

Don Mills, Texas Christian University’s vice chancellor for student affairs and the university’s spokesperson on the Berry Street Initiative Committee, said the only major difficulty has been getting business owners to jump on board with the idea of a form-based code.

Such a code would create a set of appearance guidelines for the businesses that line Berry Street.

The form based code, Mills said, would “assure that structures put on Berry Street will meet the general vision of creating an urban village.”

Without such a code, Berry Street renovations and building additions would have no sense of continuity and no sense of place, he said.

Kubes said the group hopes to have phase two completed by the first of next year.

Flood risk

Phase two would also begin the process of addressing the flooding risk that surrounds some low-laying areas in the 109.

Mills said Zoo Creek used to act as a floodplain and buffer zone, but development has created more runoff than the small pipes that run underneath parts of the 109 can handle.

There are a number of proposed solutions – but none of them are cheap and none of them are easy.

Kubes, who is a member of a committee assessing the problem, said solutions range in cost from $4 million to $60 million. One proposed solution ties into TCU’s master plan for its Sandage parking lot.

Mills said the university’s long-term plan is to move the School of Music to the Sandage lot and build a new orchestra hall on that land. This land is ideal, Mills said, because it is higher than the land to the west toward campus and not as affected by flooding.

When the university breaks ground for construction, one possible solution would be to donate the land underneath the lot to the city, which would then build a system of cisterns to alleviate the flooding in the area. If that system worked well, it could be applied to other parts of the 109.

Breaking ground for the school is five to seven years down the road, unless $100 million donation appears tomorrow, Mills joked.

TCU’s more timely involvement would include the horticulture of the new medians as well as the character of the University/Berry intersection.

But Mills said the intersection probably couldn’t have the same brick designs that wind down University Drive.

Because so many large trucks turn onto University from Berry Street, the intersection is under more stress than a normal road. The thin stucco bricks that line University would not last under the pressure, so Mills said the intersection would most likely be repaved in concrete.

Mills said another goal would be to eliminate some of the unnecessary entrances around the Shell gas station and Bank of America at the intersection of Berry and University Drive.

Intermodal transport

The idea of an intermodal transport system has been part of the 16-year development of a Berry Street Initiative Master Plan, Kubes said. After the second phase, a block west of Eighth and Berry would be dedicated as an intermodal transport system, which would be a connection for three bus lanes and a TCU shuttle. Kubes said the goal was to have this functioning by 2014.

According to the master plan, the transport system would eventually connect Alta Mesa to the Medical District and Downtown to TCU, with a single branch running out to Dallas.

Kubes said the Initiative can be funded by federal grants, but that they aren’t guaranteed. The Initiative has mostly been funded by the city and local public works grants as well as local businesses.

The May town hall meeting is an attempt to bring the community back into the discussion. Mills said he thinks that when the Initiative began, business owners were eager to be involved because they saw it as a good investment.

But as time wore on, businesses changed hands and those that originally put the Initiative into action weren’t there to see it through.

That changing of hands doesn’t mean that new business owners are uncooperative, though. Both Kubes and Mills said cooperation had been key to the Initiative’s success so far.

“Everybody wants to be cooperative,” Mills said. “People are making a big investment when they buy property and they want to maximize profits.”

Kubes said the Berry Street Initiative Committee has lots of meetings to “reaffirm with the neighborhood and have general public meeting where we reinforce what our goals are.”

Kubes said part of the reason that the Initiative seems to take a long time is that the group spends time conducting feasibility studies and maintaining and updating a master plan.

“We do it right the first time rather than experimenting,” Kubes said. “That wears people out.”

Ideas for what the Initiative should do come from everyone involved in the process, from business owners on Berry Street to neighborhood associations, TCU, and elected officials.

“I think the city gets the opinion that Berry Street Initiative is separate and enforcing our vision of the city,” Kubes said.

But that’s not the case, he continued.

“Everyone is involved. They’re [business owners] the ones who are impacted first.

“We love having people involved. Our biggest problem, like most things, is a lack of involvement.”

Extending the project

But phase two won’t be the end of the Berry Street Initiative. Kubes said phase three and beyond should extend the project one block toward TCU’s new Mary Wright Admission Center near the intersection of Stadium Drive and Bellaire North Drive.

But nothing is set in stone yet. Kubes said no specific area or plan has been designated for phrase three. It could consist of anything from general improvements to pedestrian areas to the creation of an intermodal rail option, with work aimed at improving areas on either side of the station.