Saturday, July 24, 2010

Tomato Time in '12?

I didn't have a whole lot of time online during camp this past week, but I did catch a few big news stories that I consider to be blogworthy, and this one (especially since it's fairly short, and I'm fairly tired) will be the first story out of the pipe, rather than the one I teased the other day.

Back in December, I noted that there had been a new development in the long-running saga of what was to be built in the Fry Street area of Denton that formerly housed student-friendly businesses. After United Equities plan (with a generic pharmacy as a gateway) failed (and thankfully so), another developer announced plans to build a 200-unit student apartment complex. My request at the end of that post was that perhaps the developers should consider a compromise: Make the project a little New Urbanist by putting street-level businesses below the apartments.

Well, back in March, the developer decided to do just that. There were still some hurdles that the project needed to jump--among other things, they'd need a variance to build anything above the maximum three-story limit set for the area, and the proposed project is to be one story taller--but all in all, it seemed like a good compromise.

Emboldened by the fact that the developers seemed to embrace my idea (though I'm sure that they're not reading this blog, and that others also had the same thoughts), I decided to make one more request at the end of the March post: Invite the Tomato back to the retail portion of your project.

And now, wouldn't you know, they "listened to me" again: It was reported on Sunday that The Tomato's owners are in negotiations with the developer:
Mike “Ski” Slusarski and his wife, Becky, the former owners of the Tomato, recently signed a letter of intent with Houston-based developer The Dinerstein Cos. to lease about 900 square feet of restaurant space in the mixed-use development proposed for the lot.

While the couple has been disappointed by broken promises from developers before, Becky Slusarski said things seem to be looking up for the restaurant.

“It looks like this new company has high hopes for the area and they want to stay local,” she said. “Now it’s a matter of if the mom and pop places can afford it [the retail space].”

[...]Josh Vasbinder, a partner with The Dinerstein Cos., said the firm is committed to bringing local business owners back to the Fry Street area. But those commitments are contingent on the outcome of Tuesday’s City Council meeting, he said.

“If the plans are approved Tuesday, it gives us the ability to fulfill the obligation and move forward with a local business, like the Tomato,” Vasbinder said. “The Tomato was the most iconic local business on Fry Street, and we’re excited to hopefully bring it back to the Fry Street area.”
That's great to hear. And in a follow-up story, we learned later this week that the City Council did approve the request for a zoning overlay district to accommodate the project.

Now, we can't exactly do the "happy dance" quite yet; the project isn't scheduled to open for nearly two more years, in the summer of 2012. And there could be one possible wrench thrown into the proceedings:
The project still faces a potential threat from a petition seeking to turn the land into a park.

Former mayoral candidate Bob Clifton, who helped organize the petition drive, said during the meeting that he’d gathered enough signatures to force a council vote on his proposal.

If the council won’t approve the park, an election would be held on the issue, Clifton said.
Seriously? Is this really the best place for a park, surrounded by busy streets on all sides? And shouldn't that piece of property go back to making money for the city and providing services to residents and students (like it did from the 1920's until three years ago)? Hopefully, this doesn't stall the beginning of construction or anything.

So there may finally be a light at the end of the tunnel with regard to the Fry Street situation (and it doesn't appear that it's attached to an oncoming train). Nothing new can ever undo the damage that United Equities did to the area, but this will at least give it the chance for a bright future again.

If you're a UNT and Tomato fan, just fast-forward to an autumn Saturday in 2012, where a Mean Green football game in the new stadium might be followed by a trip to the new Tomato. Ahh, I can almost taste it...

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