ACU’s Allen Ridge Lifestyle Village draws traffic to North Abilene

Dallas-based developer Tony Chron learned to care for horses at Abilene Christian University’s Allen Farm.

Years later, he rides a herd on a mixed-use development in the same location that turns into a major focal point for the city.

Since groundbreaking in June 2019 at the Allen Ridge Lifestyle Village shopping complex, dining and retail options on the North Side have expanded.

The 95-acre parcel of land is roughly shaped like a slice of pie, with East Ambler Avenue as its crust and North Judge Ely Boulevard on the southwest side and the Interstate 20 (East Stamford Street) access road from the northeast side.

The promenade-style shopping complex at the southwest corner features several buildings nestled along a pond with fountains. The 30,000 square foot center includes several outdoor seating areas, a fire pit, a playground, a pathway and an event lawn for entertainment.

Also part of Allen Ridge are the State Bank of Coleman County and Hendrick Urgent Care, both of which opened in the 800 block of East Ambler Avenue to the west.

ACU “needed a doorway to recruit students and staff, and this gives them that,” Chron said of the Allen Ridge Lifestyle Village.

On the horizon is The Lofts at Allen Ridge at 2541 N. Judge Ely Blvd., a 241-unit gated apartment community under construction across from Abilene Christian Schools. The target opening is spring.

The Allen Ridge Lifestyle Village is set to celebrate the phrase on a Saturday with a grand opening and ribbon cutting for the whole family.

Why not Abilene?

The rise of Allen Ridge Lifestyle Village over the past three years is a long time in the development world.

Part of the delay is attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic which brought day-to-day operations to a virtual standstill in March 2020. Supply chain disruptions and personnel issues continue to plague construction projects.

“In my old life, I could never have stayed on a project that long just because it’s all about getting in and out and making them work,” Chron said.

In reality, however, Allen Ridge Lifestyle Village took many more years to develop for ACU, from which Chron graduated in 1976.

His former life includes running real estate businesses for Pier One and The Michaels Company, as well as other acquisition, development and investment projects as an executive with other companies or as a director and founder of Transition Development LLC.

Chron’s portfolio includes an involvement in the 900-acre downtown Alliance in far north Fort Worth, a Hillwood mixed-use processing company controlled by the Perot family.

“This wouldn’t have happened without Tony Chron,” said Kelly Young, vice president of Abilene Christian Investment Management Company (ACIMC) of the Allen Ridge development. “He’s one of the best developers in the state of Texas for this stuff.”

ACIMC is a wholly owned subsidiary of ACU to manage the energy interests and real estate of its endowment.

“This one, for me personally, because it’s my alma mater and I’m finishing up my career, took on a special meaning,” Chron said of Allen Ridge’s development. He traveled to Abilene at least once every two weeks to follow the project closely.

Young, who graduated from ACU in 1985, believes the idea for the development first sprouted in 2002 or 2003 after he returned to his alma mater to become associate chief financial officer and later chief financial officer. He previously worked as a controller for Pepperdine University in Malibu, California.

As an employee, Young appreciated the aesthetic improvements made to campus since he attended in the 1980s. But, he believed the area around campus was ripe for improvements with restaurants and retailers available around the universities. other cities.

In Los Angeles, people drive at 5 p.m. to mixed-use developments and spend the entire evening dining, shopping or relaxing on an outdoor patio enjoying the view, Young said.

“We’ve seen this in other cities and thought, ‘Why can’t we do this here?’, realizing that we’re not a metroplex. So we had to do this to meet the needs the size of Abilene.” Young said.

Sowing an idea at Allen Farm

Young shared some ideas for reimagining Allen Farm with Phil Schubert, who would become president of the ACU.

Located between the north side of ACU and I-20., the farmhouse was donated to ACU by S. N. Allen and his wife in the 1940s. It was used until the 1990s by the Department of Science agricultural and environmental aspects of the ACU.

About 50% of the sloping land is in a floodplain around Rainy Creek.

Over the next 10 years, developing Allen Ridge remained a periodically discussed idea, Young said.

The germination took root after the directors approached the ACU Foundation about the project, leading to the creation of the ARL Retail Limited Company to own, grow and operate the business.

Chron joined us in 2015 to help with the RFP process. He was then asked to lead the project, he said.

Chron envisioned a place with restaurants, shops, drought-resistant landscaping, views, and an overall vibe that not only accentuates the ACU, but also attracts people from across the city.

Turning a challenge into a convenience

The starting point for the transformation of the plot was a 50-acre floodplain with pond.

“Rather than let it be a hindrance, we wanted it to be a convenience, and we think it was,” Young said.

The floodplain was “a tricky challenge,” Chron said, “but it gives us unparalleled amenity because our views are incredible from the pond side.”

Along this pond is the commercial complex of connected buildings with modern industrial facades softened by xeriscaped patios and vibrant murals.

“I brought in my world-class design teams from Dallas that I’ve used on multiple projects, from architects to landscapers, and pitched them to college. They’re the guys I wanted to use because they get that,” Chron said.

Another challenge was convincing potential tenants of the economic viability of Abilene’s North Side. Much of the city’s growth in recent years has been in the opposite direction.

“Convincing restaurants and retailers that the north side of town would be a good place to do that was tough,” Young said. “Convincing them that the look and feel of it was a good thing wasn’t a hard sell at all.”

Among the first tenants to open were Phoenix Pho Restaurant, a second location for Fuzzy’s Taco Shop, HOTWORX Fitness Center and Abilene Nail Bar. Other tenants are Apricot Lane Boutique, Bahama Bucks, The Biscuit Bar, Summer Moon Oak Roasted Coffee and Twisted Root, which opened this week.

Cork & Pig Tavern, originally from San Angelo, is set to open in January.

“It’s going to be our only restaurant where you can actually sit at a table and order, so it’ll be for your more enjoyable date nights and stuff,” Chron said.

The mix of restaurants is intentional.

“We wanted to have a lot of variety so people can think whatever they want, they can come to Allen Ridge and find it,” Young said.

And that might mean dinner in one place and dessert in another, he said.

Welcome answer

Tenants have embraced the vision, with a single outlet now available, Chron said.

Customers have turned to the complex not only for its tenants, but also for its playground, pathway and patios with such frequency and longevity that a 115-space parking lot has been built across the street, he said.

“I want the kids to beg their parents to come here. I went there and the grandmas told me they were here Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The kids bring them,” Chron said.

“A week ago there were walking moms here who had an event here. They were all over this place walking around our trail. Where else in Abilene are you going to do this the same way?”

Anecdotal feedback shows ACU alumni have embraced the changing neighborhood of their alma mater, Young said.

“It was what we were hoping for, we just didn’t know if it would actually happen, so we’re very happy that it lived up to our expectations,” Young said.

Additions to Allen Ridge Lifestyle Village will include a hotel on the north side of the pond and a proposed seniors’ residence west of the intersection of East Ambler Avenue and North Judge Ely Boulevard.

“We’re in no rush. We’ve had this since the 1940s,” Young said. “…We want it done right rather than quickly, but we have a master plan. We’d like to bring in more retail, probably entertainment of some kind.”

Allen Ridge Lifestyle Village Grand Opening Celebration

When: Saturday

Where: Corner of East Ambler Avenue and North Judge Ely Boulevard

What: The festivities kick off at 11:30 a.m. with a ribbon cutting, followed by all-day activities free to the public, including face painting, storytelling characters, balloon art, and scavenger hunts. The closing of the activities is a concert at 6 p.m.