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8 months ago

Walsh Development Begins to Take Shape West of Fort Worth

Fort Worth Star Telegram, by Sandra Baker | September 03, 2016 | Original article here

On Wednesday, Aledo school officials will ceremoniously turn dirt to mark the start of construction of an elementary school on the legendary Walsh Ranch in the far west reaches of Fort Worth.

The groundbreaking, though, has a much broader implication. The event signifies the realization that families will soon be living on one of the last remaining large North Texas ranches, where herds of renowned Charolais cattle still roam and the philanthropist Walsh family of Fort Worth runs a successful ranching operation.

Nearby, crews have been scraping land, preparing the once-untouched prairie for streets and 580 home lots, just a portion of what’s to come. Developers estimate the land could one day be home to 50,000 people, roughly the current population of Grapevine.

About 1,700 acres are included in the first development phase of the 7,267-acre Walsh Ranch, which has been held by the family since the 1930s. The property is about 20 miles west of downtown Fort Worth, where Interstates 20 and 30 meet, and straddles both sides of the highway.

This is a day the Walsh family, which also made a fortune in oil, has thought about since the 1970s, and been preparing for since the 1990s.

But all those years of planning don’t make it any easier to watch the ranch begin to be developed, said F. Howard Walsh III.

“It’s very humbling, what we’re doing out there,” Walsh said. “It’s an opportunity, and I’m very privileged to be a part of it. Every aspect has been analyzed arduously. This will go on for decades.”

Going forward, the development won’t be called Walsh Ranch. Instead, it will be branded simply as the Walsh.

Over the past decades, every stitch of land has been thought about, down to the planting of a farm of 16,000 trees to be used within the development. About 700 of the trees are now being planted along Walsh Ranch Parkway north of Interstate 20. The road eventually will bisect the entire ranch on both sides of the highway.

Moreover, about 2,300 acres are being set aside for green space. The Walshes partnered with Fort Worth’s Botanical Research Institute of Texas to determine how to reclaim and restore the native prairie. The ranch’s unique hilly topography also will be retained. Curving residential streets will take in the terrain, in some places featuring vistas from 1,000 feet up or 90-foot drops.

Good land stewards

Until now, the family and its development partner, Dallas-based Republic Property Group, have not released many project details. That will begin to change in October, when RPG will announce the list of selected home builders followed by information about technology features.

It’s anticipated the builders will start constructing model homes by the end of the year, with 40 ready by a grand opening next spring. That’s when the public will gain access to the ranch, and home and lot sales begin, the developers said.

Like the Walsh family, Tony Ruggeri and Jake Wagner, co-chief executive officers of RPG, say they feel a huge responsibility to be good stewards of the land and produce a thoughtful, timeless development.

The task is so strong that they said they spent nearly two years touring 35 large master-planned communities in eight states to make sure they were on the right track. They did this despite having developed some the largest and most popular master-planned communities in North Texas.

“Developing the built environment is a small piece of what we do. We want to create the most incredible and engaging community experience as we can for the home buyers and their families,” Tony Ruggeri, co-CEO of Dallas-based Republic Property Group.

“We built a really strong Rolodex of great consultants,” Ruggeri said. “Developing the built environment is a small piece of what we do. We want to create the most incredible and engaging community experience as we can for the home buyers and their families.”

The two met with numerous developers and say they were able to get a “good read” on the latest innovations in master-planned communities nationwide. They even brought developers, and others involved with the project, to Fort Worth for two days to hear from experts in such fields as education, healthcare, food, child development and building playgrounds.

“That’s the level of detail going into this project,” Walsh said. “We don’t want to be sitting here in five years and questioning” decisions.

“You can’t make mistakes,” he said, “at least we’re trying not to.”

Getting to this point took some patience. Work couldn’t begin until the state Transportation Department completed a bridge and interchange to provide access to the property, and until Fort Worth brought water and sewer utilities to the site, which is in the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction.

The City Council is scheduled to vote to approve establishing a capital Public Improvement District at the request of the developers for the first phase later this month. The city will issue $47 million in debt for the project, which will be repaid over 30 years by a special assessment on the tax bill of the home and commercial property owners. It can only be used for water and sewer lines, and street improvements, according to city documents.

Intruiging possibilities

Wagner said he and Ruggeri were intrigued by the land’s legacy and its proximity to downtown Fort Worth. Land this large and this close to a central business district just doesn’t exist anymore, they said. Currently, as many as 100,000 cars pass by the property daily.

“As a company we’re not out to develop for the sake of developing; we’re very selective in the projects we approach. We want to focus our time on opportunities where we really can have an impact,” Jake Wagner, co-CEO of Dallas-based Republic Property Group.

“The land itself is really beautiful,” Wagner said. “As a company, we’re not out to develop for the sake of developing; we’re very selective in the projects we approach. We want to focus our time on opportunities where we really can have an impact.”

That impact has the potential to be huge. The ranch is 11.4 square miles and will eventually feature as many as 15,000 homes. The entire Walsh development could take 50 years to complete. It will have at least eight elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school, and 35 miles of hike and bike trails.

The first batch of houses, going in north of the interstate and west of Walsh Ranch Parkway, will take about three years to complete, and the entire first phase about 15 years to finish. It will have parks and other amenities. Home prices will start in the low $300,000s and go up into the millions of dollars.

The developers have put together a 137-page book of standards and architectural details allowed in the Walsh. It relies heavily on some of Fort Worth’s historic neighborhoods.

About 770 acres are designated for commercial development and potentially a corporate campus.

Ted Wilson, a principal with Dallas-based market consultancy Residential Strategies, who has toured the development site, said it is impressive and that there’s not anything like it on the Dallas side of the Metroplex.

“They’ve taken their time to make sure they’ve gotten it right,” Wilson said. “It’s really going to be a nice community.”

Selected in national search

RPG was selected by the Walsh family after a national search and the vetting of dozens of potential developers. Founded in 1967, RPG has developed all types of properties, from residential to multifamily, shops and offices. In the 1980s, the company began focusing on master-planned communities, with the 6,250-acre Stonebridge Ranch in McKinney as its first.

Since winning the Walsh deal, RPG has opened an office downtown. It is the firm’s first Fort Worth project.

“At the end of the day, we ended up winning the beauty contest, fortunately,” Wagner said. “We went immediately into planning and getting the project organized and set up. There’s been a good two years of planning and thought thus far.”

RPG’s other active developments are the 1,070-acre Light Farms in Celina and the 948-acre Phillips Creek Ranch in Frisco. The two developments are ranked among the top 25 master-planned communities nationwide in terms of sales, they said.

Ruggeri said home buyers like their communities for the amenities and events, classes and activities. They have an event coordinator at each community.

“We don’t try to script every last detail of life in a community,” Ruggeri said. “We let it evolve with the personalities that move into the community. We try to embrace that. A victory for us is a concert on the green with 1,100 people and picnic blankets and families all meeting each other and enjoying their time.”