Thinking Beyond the Square: Denton’s Future Hubs of Creativity, Commerce, and Culture

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Thanks We Denton Do It for the above picture that I blatantly ripped off you fine website.

I grabbed a glorious cappuccino from Shift Coffee this afternoon after dining on a Nopales platter from Taqueria Guanajuato on East McKinney Street. Some of the best tacos in town are found on a virtually unwalkable street void of any vision or investment, tucked in among bail bond storefronts and car repair shops. Arguably the best coffee in town is found in a strange 70s looking strip mall along a one-way road going the opposite direction from where I live. Yet both places were packed. In the case of Shift, my short 20 minute stint in the shop had me mingling with a web developer, a filmmaker, a rising star in the local Realtor scene, a Midlake guitarist, a prominent pianist, and many others – literally a concentration of culture and creativity. This got me reflecting…

The revitalization of the square and its obvious continued success is the result of vision from several years ago. Somebody had the vision to preserve the courthouse despite a push in 1956 by the Denton Record-Chronicle and local business leaders to tear it down to build a parking lot. Somebody had the vision to do away with a rule prohibiting residential living on the second floors of downtown buildings, thus paving the way for what we now see in downtown living. Some business owners had the vision and gumption to take a risk on an area that many believed was a relic of the past, replaced with the modern glories of things like Golden Triangle Mall. Somebody had the vision to bring a commuter rail line to Denton from Dallas and set-up a stop in the downtown area.

And it worked. Now what?

If we learn from other cities, a growing, ambitious and continually restless creative class of young, educated professionals, entrepreneurs, and artists will eventually look for new organic, authentic, and affordable spaces to work, live, connect, and create.

You already see this happening. While city, developer, and business leaders are spending millions on already successful areas of downtown like the Hickory Street corridor (a good project, to be sure), the hottest businesses in town are popping up off the grid in places with little to no attention, investment or planning: see, for example, East Oak Street (OSDH, ESSC, and the coming food truck park), South Square (Shift Coffee, the DIME Store, Viet Bites), and Congress Street (Greenhouse, Loco Cafe, Cupboard, and Seven Mile).

This activity alone should be instructive and should give us pause to reflect on the relationship between top-down, centralized planning and organic, authentic space-making. If you’d rather hang out in the Bishop Arts District over Uptown in Dallas, you get what I’m talking about here.

So how does a city get in the mix of this and look to the future beyond the Denton Square? Cast vision, find out what makes these areas work, invest in smart infrastructure projects to make those areas more walkable/bikable/livable, figure out what bad policies are in place that keep them from flourishing, and get out of the way.

Here’s my take on 12 areas to keep an eye on – 12 areas of potential as future hubs of creativity, commerce, and culture in Denton. We need to continue encouraging the success of the square, but we also need to make more places like it around town.

Click on the full-screen button on the upper right of the map below. Then explore my thoughts on each of these areas by clicking each highlighted spot. Chime in and let me know your thoughts.

  1. will says:

    No problem, sir. Creative commons means no “ripping off” of our random iPhone shot of Shift.

  2. Cherry says:

    I think you overlooked West Oak Street, there are some really fabulous businesses over there, SCRAP Denton, A Creative Art Studio, Banter, Shop the Barn and more, it’s a great place to hang out on First Fridays!

    • kevin says:

      Certainly a great area – was just there for First Fridays this past weekend! I, and I think most others, tend to think of this as an already established part of the square proper – the goal of this article was thinking of areas not yet designated for revitalization as a way to see what’s happening and look ahead to the future.

  3. Charles says:

    I think that the East McKinney Corridor is something that should be explored. I have heard of this being referred to as the Taco Corridor, I think it was by the Daytriper. But back to my point, there are some areas that would have a great flux in business if the city or community would take some time and consider. These are some great little Mexican taco places. I believe some of the best tacos. This are also use to house some of the best BBQ in town at Steve’s BBQ (RIP). Zera Coffee is right there and it is not far from the Quakertown Park, what an awesome idea to walk down to there, grab some food, and hang out at the park or when Jazz Fest happens, AWESOME. The other areas are great and should be explored.

  4. Lauren says:

    I love that you put Sherman Drive on here. With the surrounding neighborhoods, just add some good sidewalks/bike lanes and this area would be booming.

    East Hickory by the Police Station is definitely another area that has some beautiful unused building space. I think that area was one that came up in the Better Blocks meeting, no?

    I would also add that Fry Street seems to be experiencing a resurgence, with new special events/festivals being hosted by the merchants in the area, and an increased investment in infrastructure by both the area businesses and the City. A little green infrastructure and continued support from the City and businesses would go a long way toward making sustainable improvements.

    Most importantly, some of these areas just need the confidence and resources to assert their own individual identity as unique “districts” and neighborhoods in their own right. We have seen this develop on the Square over the last few years, especially, and as Denton grows, I hope more of this sort of thing is in store for our community.

  5. Bryan says:

    Luck for Denton Jack Bell is leading the way in South Denton area. He is going to tear down the location where Shift Coffee is located a build apartment with ground floor commercial space. According the this November DRC article it will be called 500 Centre.
    They are not honoring leases with the previous owner for the current tenants.

    • Eric says:

      Bryan, the location is currently called the 500 Center, hopefully a more suitable name for this great location will come to us after the renovation! While it is true the location is being renovated, we hope to have it up and running again by late summer. This renovation will be a big step in furthering the progress south of the square, it will be one of the rare locations in downtown to offer a parking lot for the retail shops. And while the current building is somewhat of an eyesore, the new one should be absolutely stunning! We are keeping our fingers crossed that we will continue our relationship with Shift Coffee at that location, perhaps even giving them a larger and more visible presence in the building.

  6. Sunny says:

    Sometimes, the square is actually too busy. I know many times, I will go to Jupiter House to pick up coffee and the entire square is shut down for a car show or something. It’s nice to have other places to go.

  7. Kris says:

    I would really love to see the Sherman area come back to life. I think that the old Piggly Wiggly could actually be used as a grocery store again, considering the insanity that is Kroger on University these days. That area seems to be perfect for some new businesses, and would give my family something within walking/biking distance to enjoy besides the parks.

  8. Chris says:

    Scripture street is an under-used area for what it has to offer. Chopsticks, Howdy-Doody, TeaHouse, McKenna Park, a montessori school, two churches, (and a Rasor Ranch development that has turned into an empty field?) All on a street with no bike lane or sidewalks.

  9. Heather says:

    I think it’s also important that Denton and it’s residents begin to think outside of the box with the businesses they are interested in opening and supporting. We will reach the point of saturation with certain types of businesses and could benefit from unique business models. Creative and inspiring spaces for freelancers to work, happy hour scenes with delicious/affordable small bites, and dare I say nightlife that isn’t primarily focused on drinking but rather art and culture? I think that Denton could use expansion not only in where we are locating/focusing businesses but in what types of businesses exist here as well.

  10. James says:

    I think it’s also important to have an activist organization to get together and brainstorm about these ideas, as well as having a group and platform to petition the local government, if there isn’t one already.

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