DENTON, TX-United Equities Inc. has acquired a 3.7-acre irreplaceable corner at the gates of the University of North Texas. The Houston-based developer is planning to scrape the site and redevelop it with a 50,000-sf block of upscale lifestyle retail.

Buster Freedman, president of United Equities bought the land–now holding seven, 1960s-era buildings with 16 tenants–from its 30-year owner, Curtis Loveless of Denton. “This is a teardown,” Freedman tells GlobeSt.com. “The tenants will all have an opportunity to come back. That will be their decision.”

Freedman’s team plans to be scraping the land in six to nine months to make way for University Town Center, a project that’s just now going onto the drawing board of Hermes Architects in Houston. The development tract takes up nearly an entire block at the corner of Fry and Hickory streets, right at the gate of the 31,000-student university.

Freedman envisions a mix of restaurants, drug store and bookstore as part of the pedestrian-friendly design that he wants to create. “It is very much under-retailed,” he says, “and there’s no new retail around.”

The acquisition coup was put on Freedman’s desk by North Texas broker, Greg Converse with City Venture Group. The proposition included the prospect of topping off the infill project with up to four floors of student housing. Freedman says he’s been contacted by four student housing developers, but a vertical expansion will only happen if it fits into his plan to deliver the retail space in fall 2007. As result of the variables, it’s just too early in the game to best-guess the development cost.

Freedman says if the land was marketed, he didn’t know it. The deal went on his desk last November; he closed it this week. “Certainly if this had been two, three or five blocks away, it wouldn’t have the impact,” he says, adding that a number of national retailers contacted him this week as word started to reach the street.

“It’s a unique opportunity to put that amount of acreage together at the doorstep of the university,” Tim Sandifer, United Equities’ vice president of leasing, who negotiated the deal. “There has been a lot of national retail interest in this area and there has not been an opportunity to be in a first-class development.” The two-university town’s Interstate 35 corridor is overflowing with national and regional retail, but it’s much closer to Texas Woman’s University. The UNT site, working in Freedman’s favor, is a comfortable five miles from the retail mass, just enough distance for a national’s second location.

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