By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
I'd rather not start a discussion about Denton's Fry Street with an overemotional plea...but it's tempting. As GlobeSt.com's Connie Gore reported on May 5, Bellaire, Texas, real estate developer United Equities Inc. acquired 3.7 acres of retail in the heart of central Denton--essentially, the 100 block of Fry Street, home to locally owned restaurants and shops like The Tomato and Texas Jive. Think the dozen-plus businesses will survive the deal? The article doesn't.
"The Houston-based developer is planning to scrape the site and re-develop it with a 50,000-s.f. block of upscale lifestyle retail," Gore writes before quoting UEI President Buster Freeman: "This is a teardown."
Scrape. Teardown. Are we talking about a retail zone or a uterus?
The way Baptist Generals singer Chris Flemmons sees it, the answer is somewhere in the middle: "It's been a rifle shot through this community." Visions of Starbucks, Barnes & Noble and Pizza Hut are already worrying longtime locals, and for good reason--unlike a good percentage of the Dallas area, Denton is known for locally owned zones like Fry Street and the Denton Square, a quality that is in tune with the city's artistic reputation. However, since UEI purchased land that was already zoned for retail, the developer can destroy/build whatever shops they'd like (calls to UEI representative Tim Sandifer were not returned in time for press to confirm plans for the Fry Street retail center).
Many facets of the UEI deal are up for debate (a point emphasized nicely by Monday's Denton Record-Chronicle); the biggest concern in this column is potential impact on Denton's music scene. Fry Street Fair, after a few ill-fated moves, returned to its original street last year. But the music fest that once boasted such grand headliners as Built to Spill and Tripping Daisy happened in an original part of town, not next to a damn Pizza Hut. And if new noise ordinances accompany new development, kiss FSF buh-bye once more.
Admittedly, Fry Street doesn't host much live music these days, "but the Fry Street area has a heritage," Flemmons says. "When people talk about music here, they still talk about Fry Street."
Quality music clubs like Hailey's, Rubber Gloves and Dan's Silverleaf are too distant from the development to face any danger, but a new mini-Frisco could poison Denton in Flemmons' eyes: "I'm concerned about the trend...This town is not the size of Austin. It'll take 25 years to ruin Austin. It could happen here in a manner of five or six." The Record-Chronicle talks about hopes for a cleaner, nicer Fry Street, but it doesn't take into consideration UEI's other projects. Unitedequities.com reveals that the developer's other Dallas-area projects revolve around...wait for it...Fiesta food marts. Brilliant! Perhaps UEI will improve Fry Street with poop-stained pastries...lord knows their Ross-Henderson shopping center that I drive past every day is so "clean and nice."
The future of Fry Street is still up in the air. Denton government's "hands are tied," Flemmons says, but public and consumer pressure can't be counted out just yet. Visit savefrystreet.com and centraldentonpreservation.org for links to recent news stories and information on what the little guy can do.
Speaking of little D guys in trouble, I've got more bad news: Frequency Down, Denton's best radio show, has been canceled. After nearly three years of giving University of North Texas' 88.1 KNTU the indie-rock punch its jazz schedule sorely needed, host Frank Hejl was fired this week for playing a song that dropped the F bomb.
"It was a song by Ninja High School," Hejl says. "'Shake It Off.' The thing is, it was requested by a listener who's a good friend of the show. I should've sampled it beforehand, but I assumed it'd be safe for airplay. I was wrong."
Hejl points to a strict indecency clause in his contract that gives the station the right to fire as soon as a banned vulgarity finds its way on the air. Hejl alleges that this was FD's first-ever offense, and the show has never fielded listener complaints for indecency before (in this case, no angry callers are to blame--Hejl's boss was in the studio when the "fuck" hit the fan). But, as he admits, "it's common knowledge not to let anything too bad on the air."
The show was set to expire in December, the same month Hejl graduates from UNT, but he's gone without a proper goodbye, a fact that hurts him more than the cancellation (though he asks fans to send polite requests to firstname.lastname@example.org for one final episode). It's a huge shame--Frank built FD from scratch, after all, and the show's character, humor, high musical standards and love for local music made it an important exception to the despicable state of hometown radio.
Luckily, Hejl has a plan B--he's spearheading a monthly variety show at Rubber Gloves called Mix Tapes and Baby Fights. The first installment of the half-music, half-comedy show, scheduled for June 15, will now be a "funeral," as bands featured on FD will send the show off semi-properly. And just like Flemmons' optimism about battling Fry Street development, Hejl hasn't kissed his DJ future goodbye, either.
"Now, with the Internet, podcasting, music blogs, it's just endless possibilities," Hejl says. "You haven't heard the last of me. I'm not just going to lay down and die."