Sherman has right plan
for Court Avenue
Court Avenue has always seemed
to need saving. It has been underdeveloped.
It has been underappreciated.
It has been under the thumbs of
many of the wrong people. And,
most notably, it has been underwater.
Court Avenue has also lived for
decades at the end of a question,
as in, "What should we do
with Court Avenue?" Many
have tried to answer this question,
of course, offering up big, shiny
ideas to pull the district from
its perceived cross, to help sweep
up the supposed tumble weed. And
many have failed.
And while the jockeying for
public funds and the bitching
and the fighting has come and
gone again and again, what has
not come and gone are the people
who have tirelessly toiled to
keep Court Avenue chugging along.
They have an answer to the question
of "What should we do with
Court Avenue?" And the answer
is this: "nurture it like
one would any neighborhood."
Court Avenue is not West Glen.
And Court Avenue does not need
a rollercoaster or a strip club
or a casino to stay alive, because
Court Avenue is already alive.
Are empty buildings depressing?
Yes. Could better people be involved?
Obviously. Does Larry Smithson
ever run out of paint and names
for bars? No. But drastically
altering the dynamic of Court
Avenue would go a long way toward
killing Court Avenue. Jordan Creek
was built in eastern Dallas County
not because it was an attractive
area but because it was flat and
nothing was there.
For certain, five, 10, 20 years
ago we needed big thinking for
Court Avenue. Nothing much was
going on there. And nothing much
was going on around it either.
"Dead Moines" is what
people called it, and they were
pretty much on point. Court Avenue
needed some Jordan Creek-type
However, that's simply no longer
And while city and downtown
leaders begin to decide which
of the five proposed plans for
this historic district should
be chosen for the empty city-owned
block between Fourth and Fifth
streets, they need to keep the
following in mind: less is more.
Court Avenue needs to be enhanced,
built up by thoughtful people
who do not want to disrupt the
good things happening there and
the history that has preceded
those good things.
Thinking small is rarely a popular
notion. But thinking small is
exactly what Court Avenue needs.
The people who have brought it
this far, the small business owners,
the downtown neighborhood leaders,
have done so by biting off small
pieces, by writing small checks,
by investing years of elbow grease.
And like anything that is cared
for, it has affected deeply that
which exists around it. People
have taken notice. People want
to be involved. People see an
But the opportunity should be
only about doing what's best for
Court Avenue and downtown. I've
examined the plans by the five
developers in the running, and
it doesn't take but a second or
two of reading before one begins
to wonder if some of the individuals
who want in on the action have
ever bothered to take a look around,
much less ever set foot on Court
Avenue. Mike Whalen may make one
hell of a chicken-fried steak
and mashed potatoes blue-plate
special, but plopping one of his
Heartland Inns down in the middle
of Court Avenue with its corporate
meeting space and executive exercise
room makes about as much sense
as his running for Congress. The
name recognition is obviously
there, but do we want it to represent
The same can be said for the
Nelson project. A 24,000 square
foot inPlay Gaming Center? Fifteen-hundred
square foot inPlay Party Rooms?
A 4,000 square foot inZone Sports
Bar? A 25,000 square foot banquet
and conference facility? Very
ambitious. Very interesting. If
it's in Clive.
The Ryan Companies and 5C both
have decent, well-thought-out
ideas that observe the historical
significance of the district,
but again, do we need more quarter-million
to half-million dollar condos
being built downtown, and do we
really need hundreds of hotel
rooms on Court? Is it the Riverwalk
or family members in jail that
will be packing these rooms night
in and night out? Ryan and 5C,
I would say, are simply a little
too bold for what Court currently
needs. Players for both these
groups have demonstrated their
value to the community, yes, and
both have brought ideas to the
table whose time had undoubtedly
come. But what they propose now
for Court is akin to what would
have been a winner five years
ago: a life preserver, huge ideas,
more form than function.
Which leads me to the Sherman
The Sherman project has behind
it a group that stuck around after
the fire, much like the people
who stuck around after the floods.
George Sherman rebuilt the Waterstreet
development after it was reduced
to ash and he could have quit.
Sherman is a settler. And Sherman
knows the neighborhood well enough
to understand that a four- or
six-screen movie theater, small
grocery store, a little retail
and 60 market-rate apartments
is enough. Sherman, or so it seems,
understands that you don't need
to land a spaceship in the middle
of everything to get people's
attention; you need milk and eggs.
Big thinking has its place in
the history of all great cities.
But Court Avenue has always been
a game of inches - whether it
was what was best for the district
or not. Five years ago, 10 years
ago, we needed lazer tag. We needed
an attraction. We needed bodies.
Now we need to carefully look
at what we have and build on it.
Don't be seduced by the next big
thing. Court Avenue is already
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