If you’ve been to or near Downtown McKinney lately, you’ve probably noticed more construction underway – this time on side streets, just off the square. Fear not! If you liked how the square proper turned out a few years ago – and who didn’t? – this part of Phase 2 of the Historic Town Center plan will simply give you more of that!
Upgrades will include new water and sewer infrastructure, widened sidewalks, new landscaping and street-paving. Project Manager Carla Easton says while some temporary inconvenience is inevitable, the end result should impress – again.
In fact, having the square as a very visible model for what’s coming has given Phase 2 a boost with business owners and planners alike. “I think that’s helped tremendously,” says Easton, a Civil Engineer with the City of McKinney since 2009.
“[Business owners] generally have a welcoming attitude because they can look at the square and see how great the improvements have been to the square itself and just what a benefit that’s going to be once this project is completed at their doorstep, as well.”
Plainly-marked pedestrian crossings, benches, new lighting and planters will also be added.
“I think this project ... is really just an expansion of the stage that’s already been set,” Easton says. “It will expand that feel, that local feel that you get when you’re on the square.” Easton observes that some newer suburbs try to “mimic” a downtown district, but McKinney’s is the real deal. “McKinney is unique in that it truly has a downtown square that has been here.”
“Of course, we’re thrilled with it,” says McKinney Main Street Director Ty Lake, “because it continues to expand the greater downtown area with that more pedestrian friendly, walkable environment. … The City of McKinney, Carla and her team, they’ve been fabulous.”
The first portion of the $3-million project, currently underway, involves East Virginia Street from Tennessee to Highway 5. This just recently completed – with the exception of landscaping and other extras. “Our goal is to have sidewalks open for the Oktoberfest event downtown,” Easton says.
Temporary plywood ramps to all storefronts are being used, as necessary.
Next up will be improvements to the intersection of East Virginia and Highway 5, well off the square, from October through December. A traffic signal will be placed here and the median will give way to striping.
The final construction project downtown involves Kentucky Street, extending north and south from the west side of the square, starting in January 2014 and wrapping up by Bike the Bricks in May.
The construction schedule ensures that no leg of the square is affected during the busy November-December holiday season, and that three legs of the square aren’t ever under repair at once.
And there’s this: when complete, Virginia westbound from Highway 5 will be one-way all the way to the square, and Louisiana eastbound will be one-way all the way from the square to Highway 5. Also, one-way Chestnut will become two-way. (See map on next page.)
North Texas Contracting is doing the work, a company with which McKinney has worked well in the past, Easton says. “They’re excited about the project. They’ve been great and on-board with everything we’ve suggested as far as partnering with the business owners and McKinney Main Street.”
NTC representatives joined City employees last May in going door-to-door to assess needs of affected businesses.
The areas highlighted in red show are where the improvements are being made.
Civil Consulting Group developed the construction drawings, working closely with all involved. “They’ve done a really good job putting together the plans,” Easton says. “We’re confident that it’s going to go well.”
‘Unknowns’ And Other Challenges
“It’s an interesting project to manage because of the dated infrastructure, the unknowns,” Easton says. “There are brick pavers under the roads, and they’ve been there for years. It’s not like new construction where you have an idea of what you’re going to be running into, and you know exactly where you’re going to put everything.”
Other obstacles include sewer lines of unknown depth.
“We planned for the best with the best information we have,” Easton says. “Now we’ll get out there and uncover what’s there, then address each issue as it comes up.”
All work will comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. “Those requirements weren’t in place when these buildings were built,” Easton notes. “So now we’ve got finished floor elevations for businesses that are 20 or 30 feet apart and slopes that don’t necessarily meet the minimum requirements.”
But she adds that’s going to be a challenge for any historic district project.
Jim Schwalls, co-owner of the Antique Company Mall at 213 E. Virginia St., says he’s “thrilled” to see the sidewalks leveled and smoothed, as well as widened, and he also appreciates that Virginia’s traffic lanes will now be a bit narrower. “That hopefully will make it safer for pedestrians to walk. The two lanes coming into downtown off of McDonald [Highway 5], people drive pretty fast down there at our end of the block.”
“They were very accommodating working with us,” Schwalls says of his experience with the City.
Crystal Bryant is co-owner of Gather in Downtown McKinney restaurant and antique shop at 207 E. Virginia St. “I think it will be good to show the square is moving forward and continues to grow,” she says. “I’m excited to see the end result, with the bigger sidewalks. Parking will still be there, so that’s great.”
Gather hosts private events like weddings, rehearsal dinners and birthday parties, so City planners met with Bryant and others early on to compare schedules.
“We’ve got agreements that if there’s a wedding going on,” Bryant says, “they stop drilling into the concrete and things like that. They’ve been as accommodating as they can be, but obviously, from both parties – it’s construction, so it is what it is,” she laughs.
Easton says projects are on-going across the city. “You’ve got a little bit of everything here. The intent is to just keep things moving forward with improvements for all the citizens of McKinney. ... I think McKinney residents recognize that and enjoy the amenities that we have, and look forward to growing them.”
You’ll get this through this, McKinney. And then, won’t it be grand?
About the author: Rick Atkinson is a McKinney-based freelance writer and cartoonist. He and his wife Debbie can’t think of another place they’d rather spend a nice Texas evening than Downtown McKinney.