In the process, the city of Irving invested millions of dollars in contracts with consultants and developers, but finally took control of the Downtown Heritage Crossing District’s redevelopment plan and about 48 acres of land in the area last year. In early January 2012, the city council unanimously voted to sever ties with Lubbock developer Delbert McDougal, who was expected to have $32 million worth of projects under construction by the end of 2009, but there had been no visible signs of development.
But longtime downtown Irving residents have faith developers and homebuyers will see the benefits of their community located south of State Highway 183.
“There are a lot of opportunities here that people haven’t thought about,” said former city council member Fran Bonilla, who has lived in south Irving since 1959. “The trains are an invitation to make it a real viable district. It’s just a good location. You can be from downtown Irving to Dallas in about 10 minutes, and the airport in about 15 to 20 minutes.”
Despite the age of the housing stock, with 59 percent of houses in or around the downtown area being built around the 1950s and earlier, the neighborhood still compares favorably in key livability factors, making it the best quality per dollar in Irving and Coppell, according to The Dallas Morning News’ data analysis.
The News compiled its rankings by determining these neighborhoods’ overall quality score — consisting of data on crime, school quality, park access, commute time and other livability factors — and divided that score by median home value. The Downtown Heritage Crossing District’s median home value is $82,759, according to The News’ analysis. The neighborhood is south of the Trinity Railway Express’ Downtown Irving/Heritage Crossing Station and Irving Boulevard, west of South MacArthur Boulevard, north of West Sixth Street and east of South O’Connor Road.
Irving’s Downtown Heritage Crossing District’s home prices are lower than most of the city’s newer developments in the north and boast larger lots, unique to downtown living. Some lots in the area approach half an acre and most average about 80 by 120 feet, but the tradeoff is small, older homes in need of updating.
“A lot of people down in this area have gardens in their yards and very large lots, and it’s a small-town feel and not uncommon to see someone with a vegetable garden,” said Doug Janeway, Irving’s chief development officer. “You won’t find these lots in new areas. They will take these size lots and build two or three homes on them.”
In the late 1990s, Bonilla set out to prove that redevelopment could be done in the area. She bought two older homes from a family on South O’Connor, tore them down, divided the property into three lots and built a new 3,000 square-foot home.
“I lived in it for a year and then sold it for $260,000,” Bonilla said. “I just wanted to prove to people that it could be done in downtown and, consequently, it has been done. It’s a good, viable way to use the land and make the community better.”
Bonilla’s late-1990s exercise is now taking shape on Irving Boulevard as the city works on street improvements to make the area more pedestrian-friendly and offers a façade enhancement program for small business owners to update their storefronts. In the next three months, Janeway said area residents will begin to hear and see more single-family housing development begin on the 20 acres of land banked property along West Sixth Street and Delaware Creek, as well as in the fields next to the Heritage Senior Center on Irving Boulevard.
“It’s difficult to preserve large-sized lots, and keep a house and price point that’s affordable,” Janeway said. “You will see smaller lots in that area. You’re going to get a very high-end home with a lot of amenities, like granite countertops, at a price point that’s a great value.”
The whistles of the TRE can be heard from the porch swing on Dr. Clay W. Gilbert’s historic home on South O’Connor Road. For Gilbert, 80, the history of his home and the neighborhood is priceless.
“There’s a big interest in the Heritage Crossing area and bringing Irving back,” said Gilbert, whose father, Dr. F.M. Gilbert, was the first doctor in downtown Irving. “Eventually, it will come back.”
Gilbert grew up in the 1919 airplane bungalow home next to the Irving Heritage House. Both are recorded Texas Historical Landmarks. His parents bought the house in 1939. His father treated patients in the home after clinic hours and delivered a baby in the dining room. There was no hospital in Irving at the time. Like Bonilla, Gilbert saw the home and area as a historic and community investment. Gilbert, a retired anesthesiologist, moved into the home in 1978. He restored it for a year after renters lived in the home for 14 years.
“I love this old home,” Gilbert said. “It has lots of memories and I just feel comfortable in this home.”
Bonilla believes the area is on its way back with the help of the economy, and says it’s a bargain.
“You get the feeling of being in a little old town, even though we’re so close to everything,” Bonilla said. “I don’t think you’ll ever go wrong because there’s the opportunity to update the home on a good-sized lot and that’s getting your money’s worth; and I think that’s a draw for a lot of people, particularly young families who want a yard for their children.”