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David Minton - DRC

Event explores possibilities

Profile image for By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe / Staff Writer
By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe / Staff Writer

Volunteers picked up power tools and paintbrushes this week, preparing for a different kind of block party at the former Piggly Wiggly store on Sherman Drive.

From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. today, residents can visit pop-up shops in the parking lot and a temporary splash park. The temporary fixtures are meant to show what’s missing from the area, organizers said.

Julie Buchanan, who lives nearby on Linwood Drive, said she was happy to help.

“I’m invested in that neighborhood,” Buchanan said.

Some homes in the surrounding neighborhood date back 50 years or more. Residents there don’t have a homeowners association. But the neighborhood rallied recently after a developer proposed a student apartment complex for a vacant lot next to the old grocery, Buchanan said. The project was ultimately denied because it would bring too many new residents to the neighborhood.

Before the apartment controversy, she thought the neighborhood was filled with residents her age, but was “wonderfully surprised” to learn many young families had moved in, too.

“I’m an old fogy, but I like the stuff the younger people bring, the music scene and the community market,” Buchanan said.

On Thursday, she worked from about 6 p.m. until after 9 p.m. with a group that built pieces of furniture from pallets for sitting spaces at the old grocery store. Crews at the city landfill salvaged the pallets over the past month for the event.

Denton Community Market co-director Vicki Oppenheim, who is volunteering for the Better Block event, too, said the market will move for the day. Instead of setting up at Mulberry Street and Carroll Boulevard, as many as 60 of the market’s vendors will set up in the store parking lot, too.

Last year, the Denton City Council agreed to a proposal to hire Better Block, a Dallas-based nonprofit, to help plan today’s festivities. The consultants have been working with the neighborhood to design and temporarily transform the storefront and parking lot into a destination using repurposed pallets, industrial pipe and old billboard signs. A steel stock tank will serve as the splash park.

At least nine businesses responded to an invitation to set up in one of the pop-up shops. Volunteers are also painting temporary street and bike lanes on the parking lot, building cafe seating, and bringing in lighting and potted plants around those pop-up businesses to show what can work in the neighborhood.

At the first planning session for the event, Oppenheim, Buchanan and dozens of other residents suggested what they would like to see in the neighborhood. They also learned that the building owner is planning for a new tenant, but that tenant, a meat market, won’t use all of the former grocery space.

“There will be room out front [facing Sherman Drive] for more stores,” Oppenheim said. “Better Block can show what might work there for the neighborhood.”

Better Block has helped cities throughout the country translate the temporary projects into reinvestment and permanent improvements for neighborhoods. The firm’s $40,000 fee includes delivery of a full report with many metrics — from sales tax receipts to noise reports — that the city can use to help spark redevelopment along East Sherman Drive.

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