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Plano's Legacy Town Center: Big mixed-use project is a total success

 

By Steve Brown, The Dallas Morning News

 

It's the Sunday before Thanksgiving, but the Christmas celebration has already started at Plano's Legacy Town Center.

 

Its annual tree lighting ceremony is as close as it gets on the North Texas prairie to the Rockefeller Center celebration in Manhattan.

 

It's muggy and in the mid-70s, but an estimated 20,000 people have turned out to stroll among the shops and restaurants on Plano's west side.

 

Ten years ago, this flat land next to the Dallas North Tollway was just a field. Today it's arguably the most successful mixed-use development in North Texas.

 

The $1 billion-plus project just landed the biggest office deal of the year for the Dallas area: a new three-building complex to house EnCana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc.

 

But it's the shops and restaurants - totaling almost 600,000 square feet - and the almost 3,600 apartments that Legacy Town Center is best known for. An estimated 4 million people a year visit the project.

 

"We have been able to give people a destination - a place they can go with a feeling of being someplace else without leaving the Dallas area," said Shops at Legacy developer Fehmi Karahan. "It's a vision that has come together even through the bad times."

 

The Shops at Legacy shrugged off the 2001 recession and has continued to grow during the current downturn.

 

As the decade-old development nears completion, Karahan is planning for the last vacant tracts and working to recycle a few key retail spaces.

 

The space that housed Legacy Books until it closed in August will be changed into a combination of office and retail space.

 

And the soon-to-close Williams Sonoma Home furniture store has been leased for a Capital Grille restaurant.

 

In October, the Seasons 52 grill and wine bar opened. It's owned by the firm that has Capital Grille.

 

"We now have over 30 restaurants in the development in every price range," Karahan said. "People are cutting back on maybe their travel, but they still want to go out to eat."

 

Vision

 

When construction began on Legacy Town Center in 1999, it was an unproven local concept in an area already served by millions of square feet of retail space and apartments.

 

"Back then, there were a just few projects like this around the country, but not on the level you have now," said Karahan, who had developed strip-style suburban retail but had no previous background in large-scale mixed-used developments.

 

There was a lot of head scratching when Legacy business park owner Electronic Data Systems Corp. chose Karahan to do its town center retail project.

 

"I interviewed most of the 'big boys' and realized that Legacy would be a small fish in a big pond with them," said Marilyn Kasko, who oversaw the Legacy business park development for many years for EDS. She said Karahan "had a reputation for honesty and most of all had a passion for Legacy. His vision not only met my vision for the town center but upped it a notch."

 

EDS hired designers RTKL Associates and Andres Duany to do a master plan.

 

Legacy Town Center's first phase debuted in 2000 and 2001 on the south side of Legacy Drive with a smattering of shops, a luxury hotel and 384 apartments.

 

Steady construction has now filled in most of the 168 acres between Tennyson Parkway and Headquarters Drive.

 

"The only piece that is left is 10 acres of uncommitted land on Headquarters Drive at the tollway," Karahan said. "Most likely it will be office buildings, but it could also be a great hotel site."

 

Hands-on style

 

Dallas apartment developer Robert Shaw is building 210 luxury apartments at the north end of Legacy Town Center and is about to begin 310 more.

 

"This last phase will start in January and will bring it up to about 3,300 units I've done there," Shaw said. "We've built a project almost every year since work started on the project."

 

Shaw says many mixed-use apartment and retail projects haven't had the success of Legacy Town Center.

 

"There are examples all over the country that haven't worked," he said. "Housing is an important piece, but the magic is all in the retail.

 

"At the very beginning, Legacy Town Center had an original plan that was good," Shaw said. "And they had someone who was able to bring the magic of the retail all together: Fehmi Karahan.

 

"He was the one who stepped up and put his heart and soul in it."

 

Dallas restaurateur Kent Rathbun credits Karahan's hands-on approach for making his Shops at Legacy restaurant his most profitable.

 

"I have restaurants in mixed-use projects all over the state of Texas," Rathbun said. "And I can certainly tell you that Fehmi is a huge part of the success of this one."

 

Eight years ago, when Rathbun was considering a restaurant for Legacy, Karahan took him to the top of the EDS headquarters building for a bird's-eye view.

 

"Looking in all directions, I could see the rooftops of homes," Rathbun said. "It drove home the fact that people would come if you offered them the right product."

 

Karahan has his office on top of the Shops at Legacy and spends part of every day walking the project, eating in the restaurants and talking to the customers and merchants.

 

"I've given it 10 years of my life," Karahan said.

 

He's turned down dozens of offers to work on other mixed-use real estate developments.

 

"I don't want to do something traditional," he said.