Downtown Ennis, Texas, is known for its Bluebonnet Trails Festival, its annual National Polka Festival, the spectacular Lights of Ennis in December and its quaint Romanesque architecture. Like many cities in Texas, Ennis began as a railroad town and has numerous buildings listed on the National Historic Register. When the City of Ennis developed a Downtown Master Plan for the revitalization of its historic downtown district, they turned to Gresham Smith and MESA landscape architects to implement Phase I. Partnering with MESA and the City throughout the design and construction process, we helped bring the master plan vision to life, vastly improving downtown Ennis’ water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure.
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Mother Nature Gets Things Moving
The small township of Ennis is brimming with historical charm. Its downtown district encompasses eight city blocks and includes more than 80 buildings built during the city’s early railroad days. When an EF1 tornado touched down in the Historic District in 2013, damaging many of its homes and businesses, the City of Ennis decided it was time for a redo. The Downtown Master Plan laid out the City’s strategic vision for revitalizing the town’s 100-year-old streets and aging infrastructure, with an overarching goal to re-establish downtown Ennis as a shopping, dining and entertainment destination.
Harnessing the Power of TeamworkIn a true team effort, MESA provided the landscape design for Phase I of the master plan implementation, while we supported their efforts by providing water, wastewater and stormwater utilities design as well as civil and site design. Both Gresham Smith and MESA actively partnered with the City throughout design and construction. Our involvement in the project extends to additional phases that will be implemented over the next five years, allowing the City to stage project funding.
A Walkable StreetscapeThis Phase I implementation changes the streets of Ennis quite a bit! Originally constructed for horse-drawn carriages—with 2-foot differences in the sidewalk and street elevations in certain locations—the existing streetscape offered little to those who wanted to enjoy the historic town by foot. The project transforms downtown’s sidewalks into an ADA-compliant, curbless streetscape that vastly improves the pedestrian experience. Because this had clear impacts on stormwater management, we developed microscale grading plans to support the master plan vision of walkability and a curbless design, while providing adequate drainage and stormwater collection to minimize the risk of localized ponding and flooding.
What Lies BeneathDeep below Ennis’ turn-of-the-century streets, its 100-year-old infrastructure needed 21st century upgrades within an extremely small 19th century footprint. Given the limited historical record documentation, Gresham Smith relied on GIS, extensive field investigations, Civil 3D software and City employee knowledge to help analyze the existing conditions of the old clay sewer piping and cast iron water piping system. Every now and then, however, unforeseen conditions such as old utilities presented some unexpected surprises, proving to be one of the project’s most significant challenges.
A Tight Squeeze!We needed to determine routing and fit water, sewer and utilities all within 20-foot-wide alleys bordered at right-of-way lines with historic buildings. We overcame these significant space constraints to increase water distribution and wastewater collection system capacity as well as accommodate the service needs of future development and redevelopment. Our infrastructure upgrades included the installation of centralized grease traps, making it possible for restaurants to locate almost anywhere within the downtown core, providing a major economic incentive for restaurateurs.
A Success Story in the MakingServing as a roadmap for future development and economic renewal, the Phase I implementation of the Downtown Master Plan improves Ennis’ vital water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure while preserving its historical streetscape atmosphere. As a result of the master plan and implementation, developers have already begun purchasing and redeveloping some of the city’s historic buildings, revitalizing the downtown business district.
“…it took a dedicated team of professionals to do the boots-on-the-ground work required to make this shared dream become the "Award Winning Dallas Street" we have today…I can envision the future with families and children walking from shop to shop, playing in the fountain, laughing, listening to the music, gazing at the special lights, and making memories they will carry for a lifetime.”
“After Mother Nature gave our historic eight-block downtown an impromptu makeover in 2013, the City of Ennis decided it was time to finish the job by redoing the 100-year-old streets and infrastructure. We have been very happy with Gresham Smith and their team of engineers who have guided us through this momentous effort. We are proud to have them as partners in our success as we leave our mark for future generations.”
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