Three steps to a great suburban downtown Rockwall, TX


Historic storefronts and new sidewalks, lights, and crosswalks in Rockwall, TX. Photo: Michael Barera.


Located approximately 25 miles East of Dallas, the once-small suburb of Rockwall, Texas, was facing a problem common to expanding suburbs: as it grew in the early 2000’s businesses were moving out of the town square and toward the interstate. Rockwall city leaders were charged with dealing with the challenges of reviving and recapturing the historic nature of Rockwall’s downtown district while also preparing community infrastructure for the future. Rockwall “has conspicuously built a reputation as a place that has successfully retained its small-town charm in the midst of massive growth,” according to Main Street Matters, the newsletter of the Texas Main Street Program and wanted to maintain it. So how did Rockwall revive and protect its downtown?

Master Planning. In 2001 Rockwall adopted a comprehensive plan to embrace growth through “retaining and building on the charming Texas small town ambiance…historic architecture, Old Town Square, and traditional neighborhoods….[along with] welcoming and accommodating growth and change by building upon the city’s distinctive sense of place and community spirit.” (Main Street Matters) Developing a downtown zoning district and a form-based code has allowed Rockwall to shape the future of the lakefront community by maximizing the natural landscape, and utilizing natural resources as tools to build and “enhance a dynamic quality of life.” The new form-based code and zoning regulations attracted a unique restaurant and trendy retail boutique that acted as catalysts of redevelopment successes.

Historic Downtown District Designation In 2009, Rockwall joined the Texas Historical Commission’s Texas Main Streets Program as part of the plan to redevelop the Historic Downtown District. The Texas Main Streets Program works to “positively influence and impact the economic health and the preservation of important historic resources in Texas and…work with local communities throughout the state…[and] achieve the goals of the Texas Historical Commission.

Context-Sensitive Infrastructure Improvements. Infrastructure improvements of $9 million balanced preserving Rockwall’s history while modernizing the buildings by design architect La Terra Studio. Throughout the construction process, the design team and city staff worked to maintain pedestrian access to businesses and diligently coordinate road closures and lane restrictions to minimize the impact on businesses. Phase two included storm sewer improvements, connectivity planning, street replacement, sidewalk enhancement, a pedestrian plaza, improved lighting and landscaping, and met ADA accessibility standards.  

Since its Main Street designation, Rockwall has seen numerous benefits:

  • Street realignment has improved traffic flow and provided parking.
  • Reconstructed sidewalks provide have improved mobility and access.
  • The pedestrian plaza now serves as a platform for public speaking engagements and entertainment, featuring a small stage, moveable furniture, festoon lighting, sitting walls, and preserved three existing large oak trees while adding another nine 200 gallon trees around the plaza.
  • The Friends of Rockwall community group created the Rockwall Farmers Market in the mid-2000’s, which has grown to be one of the most successful pop-up farmers markets in the Dallas-Fortworth Metroplex. Rockwall Farmers Market draws around 2,000 customers each week.
  • Since 2009, downtown Rockwall has received 18 facade and sign grants totaling $16,000. Funded by the city and a contribution from Community Bank, Rockwall believes that the facade revitalization has “spurred others to make improvements to their properties.” From 2009-2013 public-private reinvestment in downtown Rockwall totaled $2.5 million. (Downtown)
  • Sales tax collections increased 30% from 2009-2013.

Master planning and historic designation have created a modern sense of place within historic downtown Rockwall. The redeveloped space can provide visitors, shoppers, pedestrians, places to sit, gather, and enjoy themselves, and has become a community gathering place for weekend local concerts.

For more information, visit the Texas Main Streets Program.