By Jonathan Smith, Managing Editor
Going to Wal-Mart Supercenter to buy groceries shouldn’t take much planning, but that is exactly what some students do to cut down how often they travel across Abilene.
“It’s completely different living on this side of town,” said Clay Rich, senior accounting major from Abilene, who grew up on the city’s south side before moving north for college. “It takes 10, 15 minutes to get anywhere from this side.”
Students who do not want to spend that much time driving find ways to cut down on trips.
“If I am going to go to the Super Wal-Mart now to go get some groceries or whatever, I usually make a trip out of it and go to a couple other places,” Rich said. “I have to plan it a little better so I don’t have to go over there every day.”
But with Abilene’s new development plan, Rich and other students might have more options for shopping near the university as the city plans to develop the north side of town commercially and residentially.
No ‘overnight solution’
In what is being called the “comprehensive development plan,” several long-term strategies have been created to encourage the development of residential and commercial areas inside the city limits, said Richard Gertson, Abilene’s director of community development services.
According to city planning documents, the plan is a blueprint for what the city wants to become over the next 10 to 15 years through the development of residential and commercial areas.
The trend for Abilene and other cities, Gertson said, has been development at the “urban fringe”-the outskirts of the city limits.
“Doing this can be a costly venture when the city has to keep adding to its public services and utilities,” Gertson said.
The plan, which has been in the works since August 2001 and received final approval about a year ago, acknowledges that fringe development will continue, but the focus will be on unused land inside the city. Fifty-six percent of all land inside the city limits is vacant.
Gertson said some of that land cannot be developed, but making use of it will be cheaper in the long run than continuing to develop solely on the outskirts of town.
“In many of those cases, that vacant land already has in place water lines, sewer lines, adequate streets,” Gertson said. “Those are assets that are underutilized at this point.”
What the plan means for ACU, Gertson said, is that the city will be working with the universities in town to help enhance the neighborhoods for the schools.
“The plan calls for the city to work with the universities to help accomplish their plans for growth and transition into the neighborhood adjacent to it,” he said.
Gertson acknowledged this plan is not “an overnight solution.” Some of the plan’s effects might not be fully felt for 10 or 15 years.
The Activity Center
One thing many students have noted is how few businesses and restaurants are near the university.
“It’s just that the development really isn’t over here, which is kind of interesting, especially with I-20 and that corridor-I think that should be built up a lot more than it is,” Rich said.
And with the city’s comprehensive plan, it will be. The plan calls for a major business activity center to be located at the intersection of Interstate 20 and State Highway 351, which becomes Ambler Avenue in-town.
Gertson said the center would be a concentration of high-density employment opportunities and commercial and retail stores. The plan lists possible uses as major shopping centers, corporate headquarters, major hotels and cultural or entertainment venues.
“We want to direct or target commercial growth on the northeast side at that location,” Gertson said.
The first step in doing so will be the construction of a new Wal-Mart Supercenter, which Gertson said he hopes is just the beginning.
Gertson said he believes once the Wal-Mart is built, it could affect land usage all the way to the university.
“The nature of a development like Wal-Mart is that it’s going to spin off other types of retail development there,” he said. “It’s kind of a good start for the commercial activity center that we’re locating there.”
The Supercenter is not slated to open until late 2006, according to the Abilene Reporter-News, but once it does, the smaller Wal-Mart on Judge Ely Boulevard will closes.
Ambler Avenue, which runs north of the university, has also been designated as a “community enhancement corridor.” These corridors are major streets that connect different activity centers around town.
Ambler, which will connect the future center east of the university to the center that includes Hendrick Medical Center and Hardin-Simmons University, will receive several of what Gertson calls aesthetic changes.
“That could be anything from improving the use of that corridor for traffic, pedestrian use, bicycle use, transit use,” he said.
Although the plan contains several pages of strategies for development around the city-much of which students might never realize-some students recognize the parts that will affect them. If nothing else, they likely will be thankful for one- or two-minute drives to Super Wal-Mart instead of 15, and that excites them.
“I already go to the Wal-Mart over here a lot anyway, but I think it’d be easier to go to the store at midnight or buy groceries,” Rich said. “It’ll just be a lot easier.”