Plano’s City Council approved the multi-year redevelopment project for the Shops at Willow Bend from Dallas-based Centennial that replaces empty retail space with apartments, offices and a hotel to help support a smaller shopping center.
City council members said they feared that without radical changes, the mall would continue to lose stores and shoppers and end up blighted and eventually leveled like Valley View Mall in Dallas or Collin Creek Mall in Plano.
The Bend is the new name for the property that Centennial CEO and founder Steve Levin said will be Plano’s “most dominant destination for the next 30 to 40, 50 years.”
“We bought this project because it has the potential to be one of the most dynamic, exceptional community-based retail, restaurant, entertainment shopping destinations in Dallas-Fort Worth and the best in Plano,” Leven said. “I absolutely believe that.”
The mall, located on the northwest corner of the Dallas North Tollway and West Park Boulevard, was purchased in May 2022 “to fix it,” he said. Centennial will teardown 500,000 square feet of the mall to build 965 apartments, an 18-story hotel and a seven-story office building. Dates for when construction will begin and end weren’t shared Monday night, but Centennial has said it will be a multi-year project.
The 6-2 vote Monday night, follows the unanimous approval last month from the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission. In opposition were Councilmembers Anthony Ricciardelli and Shelby Williams. The council acknowledged that smaller zoning changes may come up as the project moves forward. The cost of infrastructure changes such as new turning lanes required wasn’t discussed.
Williams said he supports changes to address “the vibrancy” of the entire area but was concerned with the 965 apartments it will bring on top of projects the city has recently approved at the former EDS campus, former Collin Creek Mall, Haggard Farms and Beacon Square and others, Plano’s housing stock will be 50% rentals.
“We saw what happened when Collin Creek declined. It brought down the entire area with it and by extension the whole 75 corridor,” Williams said, but he wants more owned condos and independent living mixed into the residential.
Likewise, Ricciardelli voted against the project because the residential component didn’t fit with the city’s comprehensive plan passed just three years ago.
The idea of the 18-story hotel that’s proposed to include “lock and leave” condos was mentioned by councilmember Rick Smith. Levin said he supported the idea and would bring it up with potential hotel operators.
Another issue raised about substantial wastewater needs and offsite improvement requirements will be addressed by “future engineering study and details are forthcoming,” said Christina Day, Plano’s director of planning.
Traffic concerns were downplayed since the Shops at Willow Bend never reached traffic levels planned for and anticipated when it was being built 25 years ago.
Several residents spoke in opposition to the plan and said they want to see a mall remain without the non-shopping uses added. They cited NorthPark Center in Dallas and Stonebriar Centre in Frisco as examples of mall properties that are successful as large retail centers.
Levin noted that malls the size of Willow Bend at 1.4 million square feet are no longer being built and even Centennial’s plan to retain 800,000 square feet of retail was large by today’s standards. That will include the three department stores there now, Dillard’s, Macy’s and Neiman Marcus.
Those supporting changes included restaurant owners at the mall — George Stergios operating partner at the Knife Steakhouse and Brian Dunne, owner of the Mexican Bar Company — who said they can’t remain in business without radical changes to the property.
Representatives of the North Texas Performing Arts, which operates a children’s theater at the shopping center, spoke in support of the project.
Citing previous attempts to fix the shopping center, council member Smith said, “You need to make this work. We don’t want to go through this and have this be the third time, the third failure. We want this I want this to succeed.”