Council ponders Walnut St. mall

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David Minton/DRC
This view shows Walnut Street between Elm and Locust streets. Some merchants along Walnut have proposed closing the street to traffic to create a pedestrian mall.

Merchants propose closing off traffic to make pedestrian space

The Denton City Council has agreed to continue talks on proposed improvements to Walnut Street, which could include closing the street to traffic between Locust and Elm streets for a pedestrian mall.

Walnut functions and looks almost like an alley, with truck deliveries coming and going between several commercial trash bins that line the street.

Initial downtown improvement plans called for Walnut to see improvements similar to those recently completed on Cedar Street, including utility work, pavement, sidewalks and lighting. But when the council agreed to fund the “grand street” project for Hickory Street, about $900,000 meant for Walnut Street improvements was reallocated to help pay for it.

Merchants along Walnut, including the owners of Sweetwater Grill & Tavern, have proposed the council reinstate plans to improve the area, but upped the ante by proposing that the city close the street and build a pedestrian mall instead.

Bob Moses, co-owner of Beth Marie’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream and Soda Fountain, said it would take some careful planning to make sure the business could receive and make deliveries if Walnut were closed to traffic. But on his travels and stays in Europe, he’s seen such plans work.

Beth Marie’s takes and makes deliveries from its Hickory location, which has a back entrance on Walnut. There, ice cream is churned up for sale in retail stores, such as Central Market.

During a presentation to the council in a work session last week, city staff estimated the overhaul of Walnut into a pedestrian mall would cost about $763,000, with about $325,000 required for the electrical work and $227,000 for new pavement.

Council members were concerned that a pedestrian mall would be a significant investment on the city’s part and asked whether the businesses were ready to make investments, too.

There are almost no storefronts on Walnut, council member Jim Engelbrecht said.

“They would have to improve the facades,” he said.

Transportation director Mark Nelson said the city’s mobility committee understood that the businesses would be making investments.

“But we hadn’t contemplated any kind of agreement,” Nelson said.

The council agreed to talk more about the proposed pedestrian mall, but asked the staff to round up more information about business participation in the deal, as well as better estimates on the cost of accessibility features the project would need.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.

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