CEDAR PARK, Texas (KXAN) — A gym in Cedar Park will take on a new persona Wednesday as city leaders transform it into a scaled-down version of the Bell District, a new mixed-use development coming to the area.
“There will be little boutiques set up, a shop, a farmer’s market,” said Katherine Caffrey, Cedar Park’s assistant city manager.
Caffrey said the event, called “A Day in Bell District,” will immerse people in the 52-acre development that will include apartments, offices, restaurants, shops and a 12-acre park. It’s also a chance for people to meet the developers, RedLeaf Properties of Austin.
That’s the developer behind the Highland Mall project centered around Austin Community College; RedLeaf’s founder also had a hand in the Mueller neighborhood development.
But despite taking cues from those developments and properties like The Domain, city leaders say this project will be unique to Cedar Park, a way to build a sense of place and identity for the booming suburb.
“This is going to be one of the first mixed-use districts in the suburbs,” Caffrey said, “and that’s what’s distinct about it.”
At Wednesday’s meeting, the city wants to hear from people about what kinds of businesses they’d like to see in the development to help them shape the “new civic heart” of Cedar Park.
City leaders are inviting people to spend a day in the district from 6-8 p.m. Wednesday at the Cedar Park Recreation Center at 1435 Main Street. Visitors will also be able to experience a virtual reality tour of what will be Bell Park, accessible green space developed from the now-inaccessible Buttercup Creek Nature Area.
The city has been buying up land along Bell Boulevard between Buttercup Creek Boulevard and Park Street to eventually tear down the existing strip malls and convert the area into a walkable neighborhood, an idea first formed in 2014 during the master planning process.
Close to 20 businesses will need to relocate in the coming years as the project moves forward.
“If it’s better for Cedar Park, if it’s better for people that are going to be driving by and everything like that, then so be it,” said Noah Jakobovits, a manager at Moonie’s Burger House, one of the businesses whose shopping center will eventually be demolished.
Jakobovits has been at the restaurant for a couple years, during which time the owners invested in a floor-to-ceiling remodel. It’s a shame to have to leave the spot where the burger joint has built up a following over the course of 13 years, he said, but he believes it’s the price of progress.
“Knowing that it’s going to come here, in my back yard, where I’ve been growing up,” Jakobovits said, “it’s going to be right at my fingertips and all the jobs and opportunities…it’s pretty cool to see that.”
Managers at other businesses along Bell Boulevard who didn’t want to be identified told KXAN they aren’t so optimistic. Some aren’t sure where, or even if, they’re going to reopen.
Cedar Park officials said they’re hopeful some businesses, like Moonie’s, will find new space within the development to keep the local flavor of the city central to the project. They also said since the development will be built in phases, it’ll be a while before any business needs to leave the now-city-owned property.
The first step in the process will be to move Bell Boulevard to the east to accommodate an internal road structure within the development. The city plans to bid out that first portion of the project later this year to start road construction in the spring.
Voters approved $20 million in bond funding in 2015 to move the road, and the rest of the project will be a public-private partnership. Road construction should take about 18 months, at which point developers can start tearing down and rebuilding within the project zone.
“And then I think you’ll be sitting at a restaurant enjoying Bell Boulevard a year or two after that,” Caffrey said.
Sales tax dollars earmarked for community development projects will fund the city’s initial share of the rest of the development, Caffrey said, adding the project should generate revenue in the future as it raises property values and increases sales tax collections.