Go West, Young Developer

Dallas speculators stake out Tarrant County

WHEN THE Stonegate development is complete, the former Cullen Davis estate will be, among other things, Fort Worth’s answer to Dallas’ posh Aerobics Center. Jogging paths will be carved into a 10-acre campus. The medical center will offer primary health care and wellness programs for the general public. A private-membership fitness center will be modeled after the Dallas center, with aerobics guru Dr. Kenneth Cooper acting as a consultant for the project. And the 19,000-square-foot mansion, once a showcase for Cullen Davis’ extensive art collection, will become the centerpiece for a $850 million, self-contained community.

Stonegate is in many ways typical of the Fort Worth building boom. Like many residential and commercial developments under way in the city, the Cambridge Companies’ ambitious project owes its beginning to Dallas developers. The lucrative land market sprawling across north, south and west Tar-rant County has lured Dallas real estate kingpins such as Trammell Crow, Sullivan Development Co., and Lincoln Property Co. More developers are bumping heads and bumping property lines, says Joe Eppes, president of Western Development Corp.

Dallas developers have good reason to look to the west. Dallas prices are becoming increasingly harder to swallow, says Kevin Avondet, a Fort Worth broker, while Fort Worth offers a good value, an appealing lifestyle for families and a highly- respected cultural district without traffic congestion.

“Undeveloped acreage in North Tarrant County sells for $18,000 to $25,000 an acre,” says Bill Harvey of William Y. Harvey & Associates, a Fort Worth land investment firm. “Similar tracts in North Dallas and Piano sell for two to three times that amount.”

The price comparison hits closer to home for buyers who want to stretch their dollars and plan to live in Fort Worth and commute to Dallas. “The same house that sells for $65,000 in North Fort Worth sells for $125,000 in North Dallas or Piano,” says Ron Crabtree, a broker with Harvey & Associates. “Even in booming South Fort Worth, says Crabtree, it would cost about $85,000.”

The western portion of the city has traditionally belonged to Fort Worth’s well-established families and “old money,” says Crabtree. It’s in Westover Hills that you’ll find the multimillion-dollar homes of the city’s most prominent families, he says. Farther west, Chapel Creek Ranch, a 1,093-acre development, and Westpoint, situated on rolling hills, west of Loop 820 and north of Interstate 30, show potential as residential communities.

The northern portion of the county was considered no-man’s land until about seven years ago when several developers pioneered Tarrant County, north of Loop 820. Now, a handful of investors see the northwestern quadrant as the next housing hot spot. Consequently they’re buying up large parcels of land, and they’re not alone in their buying strategy. Starter and mid-priced homes already fill a 7-year-old Cambridge development known as Summerfields.

Woodbine Development, an affiliate of Hunt Investment Corp., is developing Fossil Creek, a 1,150-acre, two-phase business and residential community. Fossil Creek provided the base of enthusiasm that has driven development to the Northeast, says Kelly Thompson, of Woodbine. In the first phase of Fossil Creek, which began in 1981, 425 acres are being used for high-density office space and commercial development. In the second phase, Stoneglen will be developed for residential commercial and recreational use. The centerpiece, says Thompson, is an 18-hole championship golf course designed by Arnold Palmer. In addition, 40 percent of the land will be left as open space.

Ten years ago, Motorola acted as a catalyst for this area when it moved its operations to Fossil Creek, north of Loop 820. Others, such as Coca-Cola Co. and Hewlett-Packard, have followed. A six-acre office/tech/showroom is also planned. Three years ago, a few investors bought land north of this area for $6,000 an acre, says Harvey. Today, even though buyers are paying $20,000 cash, acreage is still considered a bargain.

Farther west, Eagle Mountain Lake and the surrounding development continues to attract home buyers impressed with the waterfront lots. Last year, James N. Summers purchased Lake Country Estates, which was once the Amon Carter Ranch. Summers has continued to upgrade the exclusive 1,800-acre development on the shores of the lake. Western Development Corp. is developing 430 acres where 1-20 and Highway 80 split in the north. The land will be used as a single-family development with homes in the $80,000 to $180,000 range.

With plans for the Northwest Regional Mall, located in a major northerly growth corridor at the southwest corner of intersecting State Highway 199 and Loop 820, some investors predict the whole area will boom, for two reasons.

Bargain prices, coupled with the large parcels of raw land, have made the area attractive to developers. They, in turn, are making the residential communities attractive to buyers. Traditionally, those buyers wanted to live and work in Fort Worth, where most jobs were less than 20 minutes away. Now, some real estate brokers think the advantages of Fort Worth will make a commute to Dallas worth it.

“Fort Worth is becoming an alternative home choice for people who work in Dallas or Las Colinas,” says Crabtree. “People who live in Fort Worth can have large lots in new subdivisions and still get to work in less time than it takes to drive to Dallas from Piano.”

Rodger Chieffalo of Haydn Cutler Companies says the city’s growth projections are not necessarily related to corporations relocating in Fort Worth but rather illustrate the migration of Dallas residents to east and north Tarrant County. It’s there that middle-income housing is available. Southwest, he says, appeals more to the growing upper-income sector.

If buyers take to Crabtree’s and Chieffalo’s predictions that the north is where the action is. North Richland Hills, Keller, Watauga and Saginaw are in for a new wave of growth that just might match the boom that South Fort Worth has seen.

The area’s growth spurt can be related directly to the sudden availability of land. For years, the property was the Edwards family ranch until Cass Edwards of Casco released about 2,000 acres. A domino effect followed, and the southwest area blossomed seemingly overnight. But it still has far to go, says Chieffalo, because the built-up date for most developments is still 10 to 20 years away.

Growth predictions for the area are impressive. By the year 2000, Fort Worth is expected to increase by 150,000, says Chieffalo. More than 50 percent of that growth is targeted for the southwest quadrant, with developments stretching as far south as Burleson, he says. Susan Motheral, a broker with Harvey & Associates, says development could grow more evenly throughout Tarrant County as traffic slows commuting time.

The face of Hulen Boulevard has drastically changed, as office complexes, restaurants and retail centers fill the once open spaces. Part of that change is occurring at the Hulen and Granbury Road, where Hanover Property purchased land from the Sante Fe Railroad to create Hulen Bend, a 300-acre development. Currently 150 of those acres are being developed, with plans for seven apartment complexes and a shopping center. The Southwest Freeway, which is still eight years from completion, is expected to herald even more commercial developments.

Kathryn Genton, development manager for Stonegate, says the area is still in its embryonic stage compared to Dallas, which has already matured into a cosmopolitan city. But the demographics for Southwest Fort Worth are hard to beat, she says. “Stonegate, Cityview and RiverHills have become the city’s hot spots for a similar reason-their location.”

The location has made the area attractive to buyers who can afford homes starting at $80,000. The area already has the well-established Hulen Mall, which plans to add Marshall Field’s and Saks Fifth Avenue to its roster. Texas Wesleyan College has also staked out acreage for a new campus in the far southwest sector.

Cityview, a master-planned community, will include premier retail space, multifami-ly housing and additional projects that will include offices, restaurants and a medical center. Within Cityview are building sites, which will provide five to seven million square feet of office space when complete. All Saints Health Care plans to build a hospital there (pending state approval) and a non-profit organization plans to build Broadway Plaza, a retirement village. John McCullough, vice president of land development for Sullivan and City view project manager, plans to enhance the already appealing terrain with a five-lake waterway and lavish greenbelts. Jogging trails throughout Cityview, McCullough says, will encircle the waterways and give the lakeside offices a San Antonio Riverwalk atmosphere.

In a joint venture with Sullivan Co., Lincoln Properties will start construction on Cityview Centre, a 346,000-square-foot retail center, with speciality shops, department stores, restaurants and a theater.

Also shining in the southwest limelight is RiverHills, a commercial and residential development by Haydn Cutler Co. When completed in about five years, the development is expected to provide 13,000 housing units for more than 35,000 people. Harris Hospital also has purchased 10 acres in the development. Low-density housing will cover a major portion of the development. Like Cityview, RiverHills has the kind of terrain that is easy to sell.

As developments stretch south toward Crowley, the West Side is expected to grow porportionately. The Woodmont Co.’s Ridg-mar Centre is a master-planned development at Green Oaks and I-30, with 250,000 square feet of retail space and five 10-story office towers. Ridgmar Town Square, a 40-acre Woodmont development adjacent to the mall, will bring Mervyn’s, Miller’s Outpost and a six-screen theater to the West Side this year.

In the past, Fort Worth had neither a large middle-class population nor the housing for that market, but Chieffalo sees a boom in middle-class housing. In the West, pockets of mid-priced properties are being developed at Westpoint and Chapel Creek, where many residents are also General Dynamics employees.

Farther south, tract housing is being replaced with custom homes and expensive lots. Chieffalo sees the area south of I-35 and extending to RiverHills as a hidden growth corridor, since the terrain is hilly and houses can only be spotted in aerial photographs.

All the activity in Southwest Fort Worth has not detracted from a trend toward matured areas around Texas Christian University or Ryan Place. Young couples have brought new life to these areas by renovating old homes, while developers such as David Motheral have revived the near South Side with offices and retail space along Magnolia.

The same is true in Arlington Heights, where a building boom on Camp Bowie Boulevard, coupled with increased interest in its charming neighborhoods, has focused attention on the area. Again, Dallas developers have been attracted by the low prices and the affluent neighbors. On the North Side, the Stockyard’s renovation has also focused new interest.

To the east, Arlington has been riding high on a growth spurt that stretches along its southern border. There, promises of a million-square-foot shopping mall along I-20 and the relocation of a National Semiconductor plant have caught the interest of developers. Townhouses, apartments and offices have been built along the freeway. “The heavy hitters-Fox & Jacobs, Pulte, Gem-craft and US Homes-are building residential tract houses here now,” says Tom Shipp of Shipp Construction, “because there’s still room for speculative buying. In North Dallas; the prices are so high, you have to use the land immediately.”

To the northeast, developer Larry Cole has turned his Tara Plantation into a haven for those who enjoy a rural atmosphere with city conveniences. In The Villages of Woodland Hills, another Cole development, houses in the $140,000- to $l-million-price range are already being built on one-fourth to three-acre lots. Although some retail developments have sprouted along Grapevine Highway, Southlake and Colleyville are probably destined to retain that rural charm. Although the cities are not anti-growth, zoning ordinances have discouraged developers from fighting city hall. Cole, who lives in Colleyville, has gotten around the half-acre lot requirement by proposing lots of open spaces in the way of several lakes and a park. By specializing in a higher-priced market, he’s also avoided the problems tract developments have with less expensive housing. For now, the area is attracting mostly executives who work in Las Colinas, or couples who appreciate the open spaces.

Also in the works is Riverbend, a master-planned community to the east on the Trinity River. A Newell & Newell project, the area has attracted attention as the proposed home for the Advanced Robotics Research Institute. In addition to office space, the development will offer residential property, an equestrian center and various recreational facilities.

For years, the Mid-Cities have thrived, thanks to Dallas to the east and Fort Worth to the west. But unlike South, West and North Fort Worth, the Hurst-Euless-Bedford area is landlocked, with little room for growth in any direction. Hurst, says Crab-tree, is already 94 percent developed.

While much of HEB was developed years ago, the Villages of Bear Creek near D/FW airport has brought a variety of development opportunities to the area. The 700-acre master-planned community is the brainchild of Dallas-based Terra Properties and Triland Development Inc. The heavily wooded area provides a rural setting for the homes, condominiums and offices, as well as a golf course nearby.

While Dallas and Fort Worth will probably always emphasize their differences, they are becoming more like one big city every day, says Crabtree, with the HEB area and Arlington cementing the two together. To developers as well as buyers, the growth means more choices than ever before.

“I guess you could say Fort Worth is theBentley,” Crabtree concludes, “And Dallasis the Rolls-Royce.”

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