Tuesday, October 29, 2013

SimCity: CityLine

That humongous development at PGBT and US75 finally has a name: CityLine. It also has ambitious plans.
At build-out, the CityLine project will include 6 million square feet of office space, two hotels, 3,925 apartments, 300,000 square feet of grocery, restaurant, entertainment and retail space, and three parks.
Sounds a little like a SimCity simulation. SimCity was fun for children to play, but it always handicapped future urban planners. It encouraged zoning as either residential, commercial, or industrial. You couldn't put, say, residential above ground-level commercial. That is, mixed-use wasn't really an option. CityLine, on the other hand, is zoned mixed-use. CityLine developers promise mixed-use. But are we going to get it?

After the jump, let's put all those impressive build-out numbers in perspective.

City Line was compared to Plano's Legacy Town Center when it was being sold to the Richardson City Council (or, maybe more accurately, when the city council was selling it to the citizens of Richardson). Legacy Town Center is considered a successful mixed-use development. What's its secret? Retail. Dallas apartment developer Robert Shaw told The Dallas Morning News, "many mixed-use apartment and retail projects haven't had the success of Legacy Town Center. 'There are examples all over the country that haven't worked," he said. "Housing is an important piece, but the magic is all in the retail.'"

Now that CityLine is actually in development, how does it compare to Legacy Town Center?

The 2,665 acre Legacy corporate park has 6.5 million square feet of office space. But much of that is in the form of traditional, suburban, corporate campuses. It's the town center that we're interested in. Legacy Town Center is on 147 acres and has 600,000 square feet of shops and restaurants.

CityLine, at 186 acres, is a bit bigger than Legacy Town Center. CityLine plans 300,000 square feet of shops and retail, half that of Legacy Town Center. Is that enough for the "magic" to work? 300,000 square feet sounds like a lot. But compare it with the average size of a Walmart Supercenter at 197,000 square feet. CityLine is planning to provide retail space the equivalent of 1.5 Walmarts. At Coit and Arapaho, that much retail square footage would have a big impact. In CityLine, not so much. With only half the retail of Legacy Town Center, CityLine plans 6 million square feet of office space, almost the same as the much bigger Legacy corporate park. Is CityLine shortchanging the magic retail? If CityLine fails as a retail center, the low ratio of retail to office could end up being the reason.

Plans call for putting the focal point of the project, CityLine Plaza, not by the transit station but along the car thoroughfare, Plano Rd. That puts the actual DART station on the far west side of CityLine (up by those State Farm parking garages). Plano Rd instead of the DART station? That suggests that they're still more car-centric than transit-oriented. But what else should we have expected from a development that has State Farm as its anchor tenant? Maybe If CityLine fails as a transit-oriented development, that separation of plaza from transit could end up being the reason.

One important point in CityLine's favor is density. Legacy spreads its corporate campuses over its full 2,665 acres, not just the 147 acres of the Town Center. CityLine packs all 6 million square feet of offices in 186 acres. That suggests CityLine will have a much higher density than Legacy, a necessity for successful transit-oriented development. That's promising. Maybe, just maybe, CityLine is not State Farmaggedon. But it's still not quite fulfilling the vision, either. That leaves its long-term future in doubt.