By Samantha Gamez
The drive to College Station often goes down the stretch of University Drive from Highway 6 to Wellborn Road. New developments are popping up along the corridor that serves as an unofficial entry to Aggieland. From Century Square to North Point Crossing, retail and restaurants intermingle with apartments and hotels. There is more to come all along the corridor. Most of this development traces back over the past two decades.
Natalie Ruiz, director of economic development for the city of College Station, was part of the University Drive Corridor Study in the early 1990s charged with revamping University Drive from Hwy. 6 to Tarrow Street. Before the modern shopping centers and restaurants existed, University Drive was lined with open pastures and trees and a few businesses including the Hilton Hotel & Conference Center and Golden Corral.
“[We were] looking at how to encourage development in that area,” says Ruiz. The project aimed to preserve University Drive as a primary corridor to Texas A&M University while bringing in new businesses.
“When the city went in and reinvested in Northgate [in the mid 1990s] with the infrastructure and prompted some of that private investment to follow…when you start seeing the land prices go up and the success that we’ve seen over there, it starts to spread,” says Ruiz. The redevelopment plan led to new streets, sidewalks, water and sewer lines, electrical capacity, and more, over an extended period of time. “So in my mind, that’s what’s created, or helped create, the environment for Northpoint Crossing at the intersection of Texas and University as well as the University’s leadership in the Midway development in Century Square.”
University Drive is now one of the busiest streets in College Station. Chains like Ulta, Home Depot, and Michael’s join locally owned businesses such as Veritas Wine & Bistro, Blue Baker, and Charli women’s clothing store. Both residents and guests have plenty of opportunities to shop and dine along the three-mile stretch. Aggie entrepreneurs are well-represented along the three-mile stretch: Aggieland Outfitters, the Republic Steakhouse, David Gardner’s Jewelers, and Paolo’s Italian Kitchen all the way down to the iconic Dixie Chicken at Northgate.
Student and young professional housing options now line University Drive. Northpoint Crossing occupies the prime corner of Texas Avenue and University Drive. Formerly the location of the Ramada Inn, the student apartments provide housing to hundreds of students as well as retail and restaurant space on the ground level.
Further down the corridor, Century Square is the newest development directly across from the Texas A&M campus. This urban center is located where Texas A&M’s former married student housing once stood. Cavalry Court, a Corps-inspired boutique hotel, opened in November 2016. Across the complex, The George hotel is set to open in August offering an “upscale whiskey and leather” ambiance. The George’s design is a nod to the early beginnings of College Station as part of the railroad routes, says Century Square General Manager John Taylor.
Restaurants and retail will surround the Midway and Valencia-owned hotels. Food locations include Hopdoddy, Zoë’s Kitchen, Blaze Pizza, Tiff’s Treats, Berryhill Baja Grill, Piada Italian Street Food, Mo’s Irish Pub, Sub Zero, and Sweet Paris Crêperie. Retail stores will include Merge, Hey Sugar, and Runway 7. A movie theatre, Star Cinema Grill, will also open around the holidays. Other additions to the urban center include the Breakaway Ministries administrative office, Galleria Day Spa, Neighbors Emergency Center, and Orangetheory Fitness.
Two office buildings will open on either side of The George. A 21-and-older living community, 100 Park is located across the street from one of the office buildings, and offers studio, one bedroom, and two bedroom floor plans.
New businesses entering the local economy pay dividends to the public. With Century Square alone, the county will benefit from both property and sales taxes accumulated, says Ruiz. “Not only is it a prime destination in College Station, but it also has a huge economic impact on our schools, city, and county.”
“It may disperse some of the overloaded restaurants such as Olive Garden and Cheddars,” says Lee, who is chef/owner at Veritas Wine Bar & Bistro and business partner of Paolo’s Italian Kitchen, two University Drive dining establishments. Although the new development increases competition, particularly with hotels, Lee says the development is exciting.
University Drive is no longer a stretch of businesses interspersed with wide-open green landscapes dotted with the occasional cow. Ruiz says there is still more infill development to come. As more housing options such as 100 Park develop on University Drive, more businesses will open along the corridor. “Retail follows the rooftops,” notes Ruiz.
While some people might be hesitant about the urbanization of University Drive, Ruiz says the majority of public response has been positive. “You always have folks that necessarily [don’t want] change,” she says. “But I think the vast majority of the community sees the value in redeveloping.”