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Plans revealed for Legacy Cultural District

Trails in Legacy by world-renowned sculptor Robert Summers. At The Shops at Legacy. Photo courtesy of The City of Plano.
The Shops at Legacy, trails, sculpture, robert summers, longhorns
Trails in Legacy by world-renowned sculptor Robert Summers. At The Shops at Legacy. Photo courtesy of The City of Plano.

Plans are underway to have part of Plano’s Legacy area designated as a Cultural District by the Texas Commission on the Arts (TCA).

The project is a collaboration between The City of Plano and Legacy Association, the nonprofit organization established by Ross Perot in 1987 to govern the Legacy area, which includes Legacy Town Center (where The Shops at Legacy is located) and Legacy West.

According to Brock Karahan, son of developer Fehmi Karahan (who has chaired the Association’s board for over a decade) the proposed boundaries for the Legacy Cultural District include green spaces and public parks, niche boutiques and concept kitchens, and other important cultural assets. “From Baccus Plaza—a Recorded Texas Landmark—to the Angelika Film Center, the first arthouse cinema playing foreign and independent films to open in a U.S. suburb, the planned Cultural District surrounds destinations attracting locals and visitors for their diverse amenities and event offerings,” says Karahan. 

“The vision [of the proposed Legacy Cultural District] is to provide residents with access to the arts right here in Plano,” adds Jana Etheridge, Managing VP, Chief of Staff and Customer Office, Financial Services, Capital One. “This provides another great reason for the talented individuals who work in the area—to live here too. In order to attract awesome talent from around the world, our community must have not only successful businesses, quality education, amazing community partners and engaged elected officials, it must also have culture and the arts.” 

Read more: Fehmi Karahan on Legacy West and the American Dream

The proposed boundaries for the Legacy Cultural District encompass both The Shops at Legacy as well as Legacy West.

“A cultural designation for Legacy would be significant for Plano,” says Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere. “Since Legacy West represents the rhythm and pulse of Plano—the center of the universe—I can’t imagine a more deserving place to get a designation.”

The proposed boundaries for the Legacy Cultural District (marked in black) encompass The Shops at Legacy as well as Legacy West, Plano
The proposed boundaries for the Legacy Cultural District (marked in black) encompass The Shops at Legacy as well as Legacy West. Map Courtesy of Legacy Association.

Is Legacy a good fit for designation as a Cultural District?

To date, the Texas Commission on the Arts (TCA) has designated a total of 36 cultural districts. Downtown Plano was designated in 2016. While at first glance Legacy may not seem like a great fit, after all, it is virtually brand new, Legacy offers a unique combination of history, arts and culture.

“Legacy is an experience that immerses a visitor in arts and culture,” says Michelle Hawkins, Arts, Culture & Heritage Manager for The City of Plano. “From its live music, sculptures, culinary artistry, fine arts and even showcasing Plano’s history with Baccus Cemetery, the district embodies the mission of the Texas Commission on the Arts Cultural District program by fostering tourism, encouraging business development and highlighting our community’s cultural assets.”

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Meanwhile, the initiative also has the full support of the Business Council for the Arts (BCA), who, for the last three decades, has worked to foster strong business/arts partnerships. “The Business Council for the Arts advocates for beneficial partnerships between commerce and culture,” says Katherine Wagner, CEO of BCA. “The vision of the Legacy District to become one of our region’s most vibrant creative regions, with state cultural designation, is one that we support wholeheartedly.”

As someone who specializes in the union of business and the arts, Wagner lays out a very compelling argument for the designation of Legacy as a cultural district:

The Legacy District is a new model for the establishment of a cultural district, very different from the way that most cultural districts have originated. Many cultural districts find their center through the intentional synergistic grouping of large cultural facilities. This encourages the redevelopment and growth of surrounding areas. Unfortunately, a frequently noted downside is that this development can outprice smaller arts organizations, artists’ studios, small creative businesses and the like. Alternately, cultural districts can blossom from distressed urban areas that have been reinvigorated by the arts. A similar pattern of gentrification often follows.

Importantly, one of the benefits of founding a cultural district beginning with a strong commercial center [as would be the case with Legacy] is that there is no displacement of artists spaces and homes, and no gentrification of existing populations. Instead, the Legacy District begins its bid for cultural district designation with a vibrant commercial center that has 15,000 employees and 5,000 residents within walking distance. The arts and cultural initiatives growing within Legacy will provide an enhanced quality of life to those individuals, as well as to the 30,000 estimated daily visitors to the District. For families, local arts access will provide opportunities for children to experience the benefits that the arts can confer on young minds. Collin County is home to numerous creatives who will benefit from the cross-pollination that high-level arts programming provides; underscoring the innovation that is a hallmark of this area.

The Texas Commission for the Arts, which is the official entity empowered with designating cultural districts, identifies the following as a key to success: “A local developer [who] has committed to the cultural district and understands the power of arts and culture in community and economic development.” This is certainly the case with Karahan Companies, where CEO Fehmi Karahan has developed Legacy West and Brock Karahan leads the charge to infuse its core with the arts.

A successfully art-centric Legacy Cultural District will become an investor in our thriving arts industry. In 2017, BCA published Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 in partnership with Americans for the Arts, reporting that the economic impact of nonprofit arts and cultural activity in North Texas is $1.5 billion annually. Encouraging the arts as an industry increases not only quality of life, but employment as well. And to the extent that the Legacy District will provide visionary arts experiences that attract cultural tourists from outside the region, local arts organizations and local businesses will thrive. Cultural tourists stay an additional day when they visit, and spend more than double the amount of a resident on lodging, food, goods and services (from $25 per person to $67 per person). A vibrant and strong Legacy Cultural District will benefit quality of life and economic vitality in North Texas.

Legacy West, Legacy Hall, Plano, Unlawful Brewing co brewery, live music
Live music at Legacy Hall, Legacy West, Plano. Photo by Karen Almond.

Legacy: Historic Highlights

With its shiny new buildings and state-of-the-art parking lots, Legacy doesn’t exactly scream “historic”. However, in 1999 when Fehmi Karahan signed an agreement with EDS to purchase land to build what is now Legacy Town Center, honoring the area’s historical roots was of the utmost importance.

For example, many of the roads within Legacy Town Center take their name from Plano’s first settlers who are buried within Baccus Cemetery, at the heart of the development. Among them is Henry Cook (Henry Cook Blvd.), thought to be Plano’s first settler, as well as Charles Pearson (Pearson Dr.), a descendent of the Cook family who managed the cemetery and his daughter, Libby (Libby Rd.). In fact, Baccus Cemetery is home to the earliest known marked gravesite in Collin County—that of Daniel Cook (Daniel Rd.) the son of Henry Cook and his wife Sarah Kincaid (Kincaid Rd.).

Meanwhile, located just outside Baccus Cemetery are 19 bronzed longhorns and three cowboys. Installed in 2006, the Trails in Legacy by world-renowned sculptor Robert Summers plays homage to Plano’s past: to the grassy fields roamed by buffalo and herds of cattle moving north on the Shawnee Trail. 

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Legacy: Artistic and Cultural Highlights

Legacy bursts with arts and culture.

In 2003, the Angelika Film Center opened at The Shops at Legacy and became the first ever independent arthouse cinema to open in a US suburb. The Angelika Film Center shows a variety of foreign and independent films and hosts film festivals. Meanwhile, The Shops at Legacy hosts a variety of musical and cultural events such as the annual Lights at Legacy tree lighting and Legacy Live! Summer Concert Series. 

“We are fortunate to have a City with so many cultural sectors producing unique entertainment and engaging art,” says Alex Hargis, executive director of the Historic Downtown Plano Association. “Legacy is one of the newest neighborhoods leading the way in that fashion. They are quickly developing their own cultural thumbprint on this City and it’s very exciting to watch unfold!”

Across the North Dallas Tollway, at Legacy West, the $4 million dancing fountain—complete with lights—serves as a meeting place at the heart of the development. Meanwhile, the newly opened Box Garden at Legacy Hall represents one of Plano’s largest entertainment venues. With seating for more than 400 people, the Box Garden at Legacy Hall features a 22- by 30-foot stage with a 600 square foot LED screen and a full green room able to accommodate local bands, national artists, or even host a yoga class! The Box Garden was recently opened by Dallas’ own singer/songwriter Sarah Jaffe.

Legacy West has so much to offer to all of our visitors and guests when they come here, including our LED choreographed fountains, one-of-a-kind retailers, international cuisine offered in individual food stalls at Legacy Hall and our very diverse customer base,” says Victoria Snee, director of marketing for Legacy West. “Legacy West is truly a community gathering place. We deeply value our close ties to important community groups and organizations.”

Lake at Bishop Park at The Shops at Legacy, Plano
Lake at Bishop Park at The Shops at Legacy, Plano

Legacy Cultural District: moving forward

The hope is to have the area designated in 2019, at which point a nonprofit (likely to be called the “Legacy Cultural District, Inc.”) will be officially founded as the Cultural District Management Entity (CDME). Although still in the planning stages, this nonprofit would encourage stakeholders in Legacy and of the Plano arts community to take an active role in the future development of the area by: collaborating on the management of public spaces within the district boundaries; hosting hearings in collaboration with Plano residents and corporations for input on public art; and promoting and encouraging the expansion of visual and performing arts in Legacy.

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There are even plans to create a park at Legacy West which will be filled with public art. Although still in the planning stages, the new park at Legacy West will be located on Communications Parkway, adjacent to the JC Penney Headquarters. The park area can be seen within the proposed boundaries of the Legacy Cultural District on the above map.

“We are still in the process of collaborating and gathering information about the various arts and cultural organizations that have ties to the Legacy area; we are even exploring the numbers of individual artists who live in the area or display their work here,” says Brock Karahan. “It is important to us to make certain that multi-talented persons and organizations in the arts are involved in the Cultural District at the outset.”