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Downtown Rockwall
Streetscape Improvements

by la terra studio, Dallas




Rockwall, Texas (pop. 37,490), situated 25 miles northeast of Dallas, created an inviting, historic downtown district following the National Main Street Center's (NMSC) www.mainstreet.org "four point approach": organization; promotion; design; and economic restructuring. NMSC was established in 1980 as a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation savingplaces.org. NMSC works with a nationwide network of programs and communities to encourage preservation-based community revitalization. More than 2,000 older commercial districts have followed the NMSC guidelines. Courthouse Square is at the top, center. The present day courthouse was constructed in 1940 with help from the WPA program instituted by FDR in the 1930s.



This $8.625 million voter approved capital improvement project focused on strengthening the historic downtown core by creating a pedestrian connector along San Jacinto Street. This stretch of San Jacinto Street was a one-way midblock asphalt street with 25 angled parking spaces. The block is now a brick pavement (Pine Hall Brick) hardscape called San Jacinto Plaza. The pedestrian hardscape is atop Silva Cells, a modular suspended pavement system that supports vehicle loads beneath the paving, while allowing the roots of the nine 200-gallon October Glory maple trees to grow without restraint in uncompacted soil. The maples are set in Ironsmith grates.





Rockwall buildings and some infrastructure dated to the late 1800s and early 1900s. Built in the time of wood sidewalks and dirt roads, the original building floor elevation was usually one to two feet higher than the street. ADA accessibilty was difficult or nonexistent throughout the area. Brick seat walls were installed along the grade separation from street level to finished floor elevations to organize circulation patterns, supply visitors with additional areas to sit along the storefronts, as well as buffer vehicles. The seat wall planters are from dry cast limestone.







The reconstructed downtown sidewalks now provide visitors with wider, improved surfaces for mobility, with ADA access provided at the ends of each block. Crossing intersections downtown is now safer for pedestrians with the addition of curb extensions (bumpouts) and enhanced crosswalk markings.





Early in the downtown master planning the 100 block of Jacinto Street was identified as a central gathering space between the buildings. la terra studio implemented this vision with a design response that provides a small stage, moveable tables and chairs, festoon lighting, seat walls and the preservation of three large live oak trees.



A new stage and wide pedestrian sidewalk were added to the east side of Courthouse Square to better accommodate concert crowds. The light poles and luminaires are from Philips Hadco.



Downtown Rockwall is "the new find"! The area is experiencing a renaissance and is filled with activity as residents and visitors rediscover its charm. It's not by chance, as years of thoughtful planning and focused energy have given new life to the downtown district, re-establishing it as the heart of the community.


Rockwall (pop. 37,490) is a suburb of Dallas located about 25 miles to the northeast. Located on the eastern shore of Lake Ray Hubbard, Rockwall is named for a mostly buried geological wall like formation that was discovered in the 1850s. It's reportedly a 3.5 miles wide by 5.6 miles long rock formation.


The Rockwall Main Street program works to create an inviting, historic downtown district that serves as a center for recreational, economic and cultural activity. The successful program employs the National Trust Main Street Center's four point approach, a national revitalization movement currently in place in more than 2,000 communities across the country.


The four points:
Organization - builds partnerships among groups that have a stake in the downtown; builds local leadership by launching community-based, volunteer-driven nonprofits that empower residents and investors to collaborate for sustainable revitalization.


Promotion - brings a positive image of the downtown to a variety of audiences; focuses on authentic community assets with high-quality image development campaigns and events to attract new shoppers, visitors and residents.

Design - focuses on the physical downtown elements like storefronts, signs, landscaping, and public spaces; targets infrastructure and building improvements to lay the groundwork for a physical transformation that is functional and attractive.


Economic Restructuring - identifies new market opportunities for the downtown and sharpens the competitiveness of the businesses, while nurturing new enterprises that respond to consumers' needs.


This commitment by the leadership of the Rockwall community has put in place the mechanisms that resulted in a true transformation of the downtown area. The $8.625 million voter approved capital improvement project focuses on strengthening the historic downtown core by creating a pedestrian connector along San Jacinto Street, beginning north at Olive Street and continuing south to City Hall. Blocks of historic buildings in the classic small Texas town layout surround Courthouse Square in the middle of the downtown. With buildings and some infrastructure dating to the late 1800s and early 1900s, the downtown Rockwall had been patched over time. Built in the time of wood sidewalks and dirt roads, the typical Texas historic Courthouse Square has challenges with access because the original building finished floor elevation is usually one to two feet higher than the street. ADA accessibilty was difficult or nonexistent throughout the area. Establishing cohesive connections within the downtown area is equally important in creating a pedestrian friendly destination.



In 2004, the city of Rockwall began planning for a downtown transformation. A master plan was created in 2004, and an implementation plan in 2010 that identified the community's desire to address issues concerning the physical design. Accessibility issues, lack of pedestrian scale, and deterioration of existing sidewalks, steps and street infrastructure led community leaders to put the project on the 2012 bond election ballot. The community approved the project in the May election and design was started in late September.

la terra studio, a Dallas based landscape architecture, urban design, and planning firm assisted the city in early planning, design and developed graphics that were used in communications during the bond election. After the project was approved, the firm was hired to lead the design of the project through a competitive interview process.


One year of planning and design included coordination with a downtown design committee of community leaders, downtown property and shop owners, city staff, the design team and a construction manager. Regular meetings were held to make decisions throughout the work and to update city council along the way.


Improvements around the historic Rockwall County Courthouse were coordinated with the Texas Historic Commission. The design team worked carefully to respect the square and ensure that the improvements did not impose on the district's historic character.


Phase one construction began in October 2013, resulting in three new public parking lots to provide relief during the construction project. The design team and city staff worked carefully to coordinate lane restrictions, road closures and maintain pedestrian access to businesses during construction.


Phase two of the downtown improvements include connectivity planning, street replacement, sidewalk enhancements, storm sewer improvements, a pedestrian plaza, ADA accessibility and installation of lighting and landscaping.


Situated at the south end of the square, the 100 block of San Jacinto Street was transformed into a pedestrian plaza. This short midblock one-way street contained 25 angled parking spaces. Early in the downtown master planning the block was identified as a central gathering space between the buildings. la terra studio implemented this vision with a design response that provides a beautiful area complete with a small stage, moveable tables and chairs, festoon lighting, seat walls and the preservation of three large live oak trees. Nine 200-gallon 'October Glory' maples were installed to frame the linear paver area that runs the length of the plaza.



To provide the best chance possible for these large trees to flourish in this urban environment the design team created root zone areas in line with the trees using DeepRoot 'Silva Cell' system, which required digging an 8' wide, 6' deep and 150' long trench. Silva Cell is a modular suspended pavement system. Each cell has a frame and a deck. The cell, about 92 percent void space, is lightly compacted by soil to support large tree growth and manage stormwater.

While this area is reserved for pedestrian activity, it was necessary to create a surface that could support a utility truck, delivery vehicles or food trucks. The space has become a true community urban park in the heart of downtown. Shoppers stop to sit for a moment under the trees; events are held regularly, including live music every Friday and Saturday night throughout the spring and summer.


The realignment of San Jacinto Street from Rusk north to Olive improved traffic flow and provided additional on-street parking opportunities. A platform for public speaking engagements and entertainment was constructed on the east side of the Courthouse. The reconstructed sidewalks provide visitors with improved surfaces for mobility and access. Seat walls were installed along the grade separation from street level to finished floor elevations to organize circulation patterns, supply visitors with additional areas to sit along the storefronts, as well as buffer vehicles.


Highlighting the improvements has been the active programing that the city of Rockwall and local business owners are able to host now in the new public spaces created by the project. The downtown district is experiencing a boom. Businesses are seeing increased foot traffic, and new business is locating to the area to take advantage of the revitalized community destination.



As seen in LASN magazine, August 2016.






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