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Developer making his mark

Profile image for By Dawn Cobb / Staff Writer
By Dawn Cobb / Staff Writer

Projects add to living spaces downtown

In the past few years, Jack Bell Properties has been building and renovating properties in downtown Denton to add more options for people seeking the experience of living close to the Square and the surrounding retail, restaurant and entertainment venues.

Victoria Village and Victoria Heights off Locust Street were among the firm’s first two properties to add more downtown living spaces — the first renovated and expanded, the second newly built. A third property, Versailles, brought additional living spaces along the 400 block of Elm Street.

At Bell Avenue and Sycamore Street, an empty lot was transformed into the four-story Victoria Station, featuring office space at the street level, topped with multi-floored apartments above. Downstairs commercial businesses include a company office, the Dallas Comedy House school and an insurance agency.

The Locust 210 Lofts are the latest addition to the lineup, at Locust and Sycamore streets. The development replaced the former drive-through lanes once owned by Wells Fargo.

While the exterior is finished, said owner and developer Jack Bell, some finish-out remains inside. Once completed, Locust 210 Lofts will feature a 500-square-foot office space and a salon along with 52 apartment units.

“Demand is high,” Bell said, adding that the additional downtown living spaces have been well received. The overall occupancy rate for his properties now stands at 97 percent, he said.

The newest acquisition by Jack Bell Properties includes a retail-office center at 501 S. Locust St. Bell plans to renovate the retail area, known as the 500 Centre, into space for office and retail outlets, keeping the parking available in front.

He also is in the process of seeking city approval to add three stories of apartments atop the building to add another 75 units to his growing downtown presence. Once permitting is finished in the next few months, Bell plans to begin construction with a completion date by the summer of 2014.

The lure of the purchase was the opportunity for front-end parking, Bell said, adding that parking is an issue downtown and especially for retailers. Most people like to park near their shopping destinations, he said, and that plays an important role in where some shops choose to locate.

“There’s more opportunity for retail with parking,” Bell said.

The latest acquisition, once it’s open next year, would total an estimated 350 units that Jack Bell Properties has brought to downtown Denton, adding a majority of the estimated 500 units city planners had hoped for as part of their “live, work, play” theme for central Denton.

The number — 500 — comes from the 2003 Denton Downtown Master Plan developed by Fregonese Associates, which resulted after a series of workshops to determine the top visions residents and city leaders had for downtown.

According to Julie Glover, the city’s economic development program administrator, the number of downtown livable spaces is likely right at or more than the suggested 500, counting Bell’s properties among other developments in the heart of the Square and surrounding streets.

“Downtown residential living is very popular and very desirable,” Glover said, adding that the area’s access to entertainment, retail and restaurants make it a popular area for people to seek housing.

“Lots of people who live down here walk to work, ride their bikes,” she said. “They don’t take their cars because they can bike or walk to work.”

With his latest acquisition, Bell also is dealing with an apartment complex on Louise Street that came as part of the purchase package.

Recently, Bell said, he has dealt with the issue of needing to seek a certificate of occupancy to operate the complex. However, before he can receive the certificate of occupancy, the building must be renovated to meet city codes.

“We took it over and, because of the condition of the property, gave notice to tenants we were moving them out due to health and safety issues,” Bell said.

The new owners of Park West met with tenants, offering free rent in November and asking them to leave by mid-month so renovations could begin. With current services to the apartments under the previous owner’s name, Bell said they cautioned tenants that services, such as electricity, could be turned off by the city.

Once he learned service had been cut, Bell contacted city officials when offices opened the following day and service was restored a day later, he said.

Bell explained that when ownership changes, the new owners must meet certain city codes before receiving certificates of occupancy and changing services under their company names. The residents have to be moved out of the building before significant renovations can be made, he said, adding the building is in need of quite a few repairs including electrical, heating and plumbing upgrades as well as parking lot reconstruction.

They plan to be finished with renovations by Jan. 15, he said, and will reopen the apartments for new tenants.

DAWN COBB can be reached at 940-566-6879 and via Twitter at @DawnCobbDRC.