Jefferson Boulevard in Oak Cliff under construction for improvements
Published: Sunday, January 27, 2013
Updated: Monday, January 28, 2013 11:01
Jefferson Boulevard in Oak Cliff hopes to preserve history and culture by becoming a “Main Street."
Pawn stores to the left. Convenience stores to the right. An old, gravel street under the wheels of cars. A rusted, green sign that’s barely legible reads, “Jefferson Boulevard, Oak Cliff."
But beyond the thrift stores and parking meters along the boulevard, change is brewing. It can be seen in signs that read: “Under Construction.”
Mayor Mike Rawlings’ GrowSouth plans calls for changes that will help transform the stretch of Jefferson Boulevard from Tyler Street to Marseilles Street into a de facto Main Street for Oak Cliff. That is to say, it aims to be a hub of shopping and dining for residents, and even attract attention away from the skyscrapers of downtown Dallas.
“The plans that are being studied will change the way that the community interacts with Jefferson Boulevard,” said Shawn Williams, the Deputy Chief of Staff in the mayor’s office. “It will promote foot traffic and give people a reason to linger a little longer than if they were visiting the area today.”
There is some controversy over whether the renovations along Jefferson Boulevard are focusing too deeply on the north part of Oak Cliff, while the south part is left alone.
“It’s great that they want to improve this neighborhood,” Oak Cliff resident Donna Hernandez said. “But I wish they’d improve my neighborhood too."
Hernandez lives on the south side of the neighborhood, close to Wright Street, which is seeing fewer improvement efforts than the parts of Oak Cliff closer to I-30 and downtown. However, Hernandez said that the improvements are still helping her because she visits Jefferson Boulevard frequently to eat and shop.
Bob Stimson, the president of the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce, said the street is visited by many of the Hispanic residents from the area and is already a shopping hub.
“I don’t think it’s a north or south thing at all,” Stimson said. “I view it as a project for all of Oak Cliff. I think it’s incredibly cool that we’re getting things like this."
Another idea that is being thrown around Dallas City Hall is the establishment of a ‘Las Ramblas’ area around the boulevard. The term comes from a tree-lined, pedestrian strip in Barcelona that is popular with locals and tourists because of its restaurants, retailers and entertainers.
Dallas City Hall’s new CityDesign Studio, headed by Brent Brown, is handling the Las Ramblas project. The theory is that the median in between the opposing lanes of traffic would be used as a stage that could host food carts, live musicians and street artists. However, to accommodate for this, it would be necessary to remove a lane of traffic in each direction.
However, it is uncertain yet if this change would greatly affect commute times for residents.
“It might slow down traffic in that part of town,” Stimson said. “But we’re okay with that.”
Another renovation that is being considered as part of the GrowSouth plan is the construction of a streetcar that will connect the Dallas Convention Center in downtown with the Bishop Arts District in Oak Cliff.
According to city officials, the streetcar will pass directly through Jefferson Boulevard and, more importantly, it will have the ability to drop riders off at the restaurants along
“The streetcar will be an excellent tool for increasing the visibility and marketability of Oak Cliff, and specifically, Jefferson Boulevard” said Gary Sanchez, who works for Delia Jasso, the Dallas councilwoman in charge of District 1, which encompasses much of Oak Cliff.
The creation of this streetcar will be specific to the GrowSouth program, and won’t be tied to DART in any way.
“The streetcar that we’re talking about would be like if one of the McKinney trolley cars and a DART train had a kid,” Stimson said.
Oak Cliff is able to get these nice things because of a $600 million bond that was approved on Nov. 6 by Dallas voters. Of this $600 million, $40 million is being allocated towards GrowSouth and other South Dallas improvements, which expand farther than just Jefferson Boulevard.
“Funds have been approved to improve Bishop Avenue from Davis to Jefferson,” Williams said. “The Bishop improvements will be key to the future success of Jefferson.”
There is no official timetable for the renovations along Jefferson Boulevard to be finished, but Mayor Rawlings is expecting a final plan to be submitted by the end of Spring 2013.
“We’re not going to be able to wave a wand and have it finished,” Paula Blackmon, Chief of Staff for the mayor’s office, said. “It’s going to be figuring out what the tenants want and giving it to them.”