One commenter on a recent Back Talk post about the Lake Highlands Town Center noted that “Lake Highlands isn’t over-retailed; it’s under-demolished.”
That’s essentially the belief of Christon Company‘s Jim Christon, who has closed on Lake Highlands Plaza, and is turning much of the vacant retail space on the southwest corner of Audelia and Walnut Hill into residential property. The 7-Eleven and the L-shaped building that wraps around it (which includes Highlands Cafe and T. Hee Greetings), will remain, says Christon, who is managing the project for two investors whom he says asked to remain anonymous. The rest will be torn down and converted into 18-20 homes, each between 3,500 and 4,000 square feet and costing anywhere from $650,000 to $700,000.
Converting retail property to residential property “may be unusual, but it’s not going to be unusual,” Christon says, “especially in Lake Highlands — there’s too much retail, and the retail business is not what it used to be.” Christon gives an example of a shopping center he did 30 years ago where he put in a 35,000-square-foot grocery store, plus a pharmacy, a Hallmark store and more. Nowadays, he says, those kinds of consumer needs are already located within a grocery store. “We don’t need all that retail space, and the cities, like Dallas, are going to have to learn that. If they don’t, then you’re going to have rundown retail with tenants that are not desirable.”
Lake Highlands Plaza recently went into foreclosure, and its roughly $3.5 million pricetag was also considered by bidders such as The Retail Connection and Lake Highlands United Methodist Church. Now that Christon has closed on the property, he says the homes should be built and selling within about two years. He hasn’t yet found builders, but says he is confident it won’t be a problem because of the demand for this kind of project. The project will also require a zoning change from commercial to residential. Lake Highlands’ Councilman Jerry Allen says “it’s pretty much the general consensus that neighbors there would look favorably” toward such a project. “Basically what you had for the most part was a tired old shopping center, so we end up getting the best of both worlds.” He also says that “we will do some things on the city level with the infrastructure,” indicating that he intends to help the project receive Tax Increment Financing (TIF) reimbursement from the city for items such as roads, sidewalks, streetlights and utility set-up. (The project is located within the boundaries of the Skillman Corridor TIF.)
Allen says “if I had my druthers,” the retail property across Audelia from Christon’s project will be the second retail-to-residential project in Lake Highlands. “I would have hoped to already have gotten control of that other location. It’s an eyesore to some degree,” Allen says. “I’d love to be able to mirror exactly what we do on the west side and make it happen on the east side.”