In the heart of the massive 7,200-acre Walsh neighborhood being built in west Fort Worth is a makerspace, which includes a woodshop, laser cutter, robotics lab, computer design software, 3D printers, an electronics lab and other tools and equipment.
The aim of the workshop is to encourage residents to explore, create and invent. But even more than that, the goal is to develop a sense of community, say Tony Ruggeri and Jake Wagner, the co-CEOs of Republic Property Group, which is developing the Walsh neighborhood.
Founded in 1967, Republic has been responsible for notable developments in North Texas including Stonebridge Ranch, Lake Forest and Lantana.
In another recent development, Republic Property Group plans to move its headquarters from One Lincoln Park in North Dallas to the 400 South Record building in the Reunion District of Downtown Dallas, the company announced last week. About 30 employees will make the move later this summer.
After a recent tour of Walsh, I sat down for an interview with Wagner and Ruggeri at their North Dallas office.
How many homes have you sold and how many lots have you developed in Walsh?
Ruggeri: We’ve had 335 sales (through mid June), and we opened the doors in April 2017. We’ve had 271 closings, so we have 271 homes occupied already out of the 335. We’ve built 587 home sites, and in phase 2, which we’re finishing construction on now, we’ll have another 553. That will give us 1,100 home sites by the end of this year.
Wagner: There’s been a lot of interest. We’ve seen so much growth and demand, and trying to keep up with it has been challenging.
In your minds, what differentiates Walsh?
Ruggeri: It’s very nice to have 7,000 acres at the intersection of two interstate highways. The location is fantastic. The Aledo Independent School District is incredible. The fundamentals are there to be able to build a thriving community.
For us, it’s about creating the experience for the homeowners. It’s all the connective tissue that forms community. It creates an environment where someone can move in with their family and they can become genuine friends with their neighbors.
There are things to do like the makerspace, for example, where you can go in and hopefully have a shared hobby with someone else and start a conversation over that and form friendships that way. That’s just as applicable for adults as it is for kids If we can strengthen those relationships and do that. That’s what forms community and that’s what creates an environment where those residents that live there want to tell their friends and their family to come in and be a part of it.
Wagner: We’re in real estate development and by definition you think of real estate developers as building the place, building the infrastructure, developing the lots for builders and building the buildings. That’s been our core business and will continue to be our core business, and it’s probably the foundation of everything we focus on.
But buildings and homes don’t create community. It’s the people there. So there’s just as much focus and thought on how you create a really engaging physical environment and then how do you activate it so that people have a great experience there, whether that’s through the uses that you bring in, how you connect them, how you program it with lifestyle and events and activities and look at the holistic place.
What lessons have you learned at other developments that you’ve put in place in Walsh?
Wagner: The home architecture, for example. We want to create an environment that has a look and a feel and a brand and we spend so much time on the planning and the amenities and what they look like, but ultimately if the home architecture doesn’t compliment that, it can feel disingenuous.
So what did you differently?
Wagner: We identified six prevalent architectural styles that have been built in west Fort Worth over several decades and adopted those into a pattern book, then worked closely with our builders for them to design brand new floor plans and elevations that would really compliment the inspiration of the place and the environment. It was really hard to do, but I think it pays off when you drive out there and you look at the streetscape and the architecture.
At full build-out, Walsh will be one of the biggest masterplanned communities in Texas and the country. Why did you go so big?
Ruggeri: It’s rare that you have the opportunity to develop something on that scale. While the total acreage of Walsh is big, the way that we plan is not.
We plan in quarter-mile radius circles. The way that we’ve laid Walsh out is in five-minute walks and 10-minute walks. We want to make sure that we’ve got a five-minute or 10-minute max walk for every single home to have access to the parks.
We’ll have a really nice, walkable small village which will evolve over time as the residents come in to support more restaurants and small-shop retail. We’re planning on a very human scale even though it is a large place overall.
Wagner: It’s so big because that’s how much land the Walsh family owned when we started to partner with them. But I think we would plan it the same way if it were half the size that it is.
The Walsh family has owned the land since the mid 1950s or so. They sought a partner in 2013 and sent out an RFP to 40 developers around the country for a potential partnership, and we ended up working through a meticulous selection process and ultimately won the beauty contest to partner with them and started working with them on it in mid-2014.
How did your interests align?
Wagner: They (Walsh family) want to create a legacy for Fort Worth and the area. They want to do it very high quality.
We had a really great alignment with what we wanted to do. You don’t find that large of a cohesive site to create a community very often, and if you do, you have to drive really, really far out to find that much land.
Since they’ve owned it for so long, it’s 12 minutes from downtown Fort Worth. To find that much land that close is a pretty unprecedented opportunity.
How many builders do you have out there?
Wagner: Twelve. It’s a combination of production builders and some great custom builders.
Dallas Business Journal, July 9, 2019, Bill Hetchcock | View Original Article