Developer brings food-only project to older Richardson stretch

Along busy Central Expressway, near a payday lender and a shuttered Mexican buffet, developer Kirk Hermansen is planting seeds for a park.


The Richardson Restaurant Park, a crop of up to seven restaurants north of Spring Valley Road, is to open next year, supplanting about a dozen businesses, including a past-its-prime motel.Much like West Dallas’ restaurant enclave Trinity Groves, the five-acre Richardson Restaurant Park demonstrates how food is become an increasingly important ingredient in major developments.


For this project, at least to begin with, food is the only ingredient.


“Today, one of the hottest categories in commercial retail is food,” said Bob Young, who tracks development in North Texas as managing director of the Weitzman Group, a real estate company.

“If you put six or eight restaurants together, they in essence become the anchor themselves collectively for a development,” he added. “Complementary food offerings in a comfortable setting bring repeat customers back to a given locale.”  To be sure, Dallas-Fort Worth is replete with restaurant rows. Eateries have popped up cheek by jowl alongside bustling thoroughfares such as Belt Line Road in Addison, the Dallas North Tollway and Knox-Henderson.

For the most part, those developments represent organic growth. Individual entrepreneurs open restaurants in hot spots with no uniformity of theme or design.Experts said creating a restaurant row as one cohesive unit gives the developer more control and the finished product a unified sense of place.


“We can control the [selection] of the restaurant clusters,” said Hermansen, who was a real estate director for Carrollton-based TGI Fridays in a previous life. “We can control the parking and the amenities.


“We can control the views and the visibility and the sight lines and other things in the planning, and create this culinary destination. That’s the big value.”


For the tenants, he said, “that will mean the pie will be bigger than any individual piece.”


“We hope, [for] people that go out to eat three or four times a week, that the majority of those occasions end up at our park. It should translate into greater frequency,” he said.  The tenant mix in the $20 million project is evolving. Two of the site’s four buildings are under construction and three restaurants have been announced.


The Rock Wood Fired Kitchen & Spirits, a freestanding casual dining restaurant, will occupy roughly 7,500 square feet on two floors.


VertsKebap, an Austin-based fast-casual chain that serves sandwiches, wraps and salads, will continue its Dallas-Fort Worth growth with a location in the park.


Gathering place

In July, Dog Haus, a gourmet hot dog, sausage and burger chain based in Pasadena, Calif., announced a 20-restaurant franchise deal for North Texas that includes a restaurant park location.


“Having a destination where people will go to gather and spend time made a lot of sense for me,” said Ron Ryan, the North Texas franchisee for Dog Haus and head of Texas Wurst Restaurants LLC. “Having other restaurants around creates a synergy, it brings people to the area, even if they’re undecided” about which restaurant to pick.


“It's interesting to have a collective effort to bring people to the site, and then the restaurants in the site will sort out what their share” will be, said Ryan, former vice president of operations for Dallas-based Maggiano’s Little Italy.  The Richardson restaurant cluster includes more than 1,000 feet of frontage along Central, where more than 330,000 cars a day zip by, Hermansen said.


It’s on a stretch of roadway that contains few restaurants compared to, say, the Dallas North Tollway.


There is “so little competition” on the stretch of Central between LBJ Freeway to just north of the Bush Turnpike, Hermansen said. “That’s what attracted me to the site. Richardson is vastly underdeveloped for restaurant seats.”


Most of the restaurants will be clustered around a central plaza that will serve as a public square and include a shallow pool fountain with illuminated translucent columns. At least four of the restaurants will surround the plaza.


The portion of the site opposite Central will have a walkway that leads to the adjacent residential neighborhood.


To make way for the restaurant development, the city of Richardson purchased the 1960s-era Continental Inn in 2012 for $2.2 million and tore down what some said had become an eyesore. The city sold the site to Hermansen for $2.2 million but gave him a $2.2 million development grant that essentially canceled out that cost.


An infrastructure rebate of up to $1.2 million also is available to the developer.  Revamping the former Continental Inn site was one of five possible projects outlined in the the West Spring Valley Reinvestment Strategy plan that the Richardson City Council adopted in 2009.


Sizzling locations

So far, the area has not had the kind of major redevelopment seen in cities such as Frisco or in the northern reaches of Richardson at the CityLine project.


Ryan of Dog Haus also is planning to open a location in Warren Buffett’s mammoth Grandscape development in The Colony. That 400-plus acre project is home to Nebraska Furniture Mart and is to eventually include hotel rooms, more retail and a live music venue.


West Plano Village, which Young said was marketed largely as a restaurant collective, includes housing and office space.


Even Trinity Groves, which began as a restaurant incubator, is branching out to add housing. Cypress at Trinity Groves, featuring studios and one- and two-bedroom apartments, is expected to open by next summer.  During the Richardson Restaurant Park’s plans-on-paper stage, some residents questioned why the site was being developed as a single-use project rather than multi-use.


“We’re all restaurants, no retail by design,” Hermansen said.


But Hermansen said that might not always be the case.


“It would be premature to look too hard at doing something [else] now,” he said. “If this is as successful as we think it will be, the natural thing for us to do would be … to look to expand the park. We don’t have anything planned, but would we look at it? Yes.”


Once he plants his flag, Hermansen expects other developers and entrepreneurs to take another look at the area, a mature section of Richardson that some see as in need of a makeover.  “The city hopes we will spark some development within that entire” area, he said. “We hope we’re the catalyst for that.”

The Daily Morning News | Karen Robinson-Jacobs 
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