Optimistic in a Weird Year

NDCC COO Says Community Continues to Support Local Businesses

Jeff Kitner still doesn’t live in his house, and he still doesn’t work at his office, even though the damage from the EF3 tornado that hit on Oct. 20, 2019, is almost a year old.

It’s been a weird 12 months. First, a tornado wallops North Dallas, carving out a swath of destruction from west to east through Preston Hollow and surrounding neighborhoods. 

Then a pandemic hits in the spring, and for several weeks, the community shelters in place before businesses are allowed to reopen slowly. 

And all the while, Kitner has been chief operating officer for the North Dallas Chamber of Commerce, a nonprofit that first found itself assisting its member businesses while also figuring out what to do about its heavily-damaged building, and then later helping some of those same businesses as they tried to stay afloat during the pandemic.

“On the residential side, people are starting to move back in to the neighborhood. We’re still out of our house. And we’re hoping to be back in by November – that is what our contractor is telling us, but the neighbors are starting to move back in,” Kitner said. “There is progress being made, but you can really tell the difference between pre-tornado and post-tornado by the lack of tree canopy. And that’s the thing that is most noticeable when I go back into the neighborhood because you had, you know, on our street, Azalea, we had these beautiful trees that lined the street, and now they’re almost all gone. And that’s similar for many of the streets in our neighborhood.”

A year later, and the most noticeable changes are to the Preston-Royal intersection. Central Market is still working to rebuild, and the McDonalds and Nothing Bundt Cakes are open. But the rest of the shopping center was too damaged to repair and has been torn down.

On the southwest corner, signs of life are beginning to emerge, too.

“It’s moving along slowly in terms of redevelopment. One of the challenges is there are multiple different owners of properties, so trying to come together on a cohesive plan for what to do is more challenging than you would see in a single owner situation, so things are coming along more slowly,” Kitner said. 

The chamber offices are also on that southwest corner, which took a hit from the tornado as it bounced down Royal Lane, striking the Benchmark Bank building and the adjacent shopping center and the surrounding neighborhood, tearing through the Preston Oaks shopping center on the southeast corner and scraping the farthest southern edge of the Preston Royal Shopping Center and the St. Marks campus to the south before traveling through the neighborhood behind the school. 

But in spite of the double whammy of a pandemic and a tornado, Kitner said that overall, businesses are being supported by the community.

“It’s a lot for the smaller and medium-sized businesses and the restaurants. And you have these layers of you have COVID and you have the tornado that you’re dealing with. It’s not easy,” he said. “I think people are trying to maintain a positive outlook and they’re wanting to support neighborhood businesses. They want to support our community. And all we can do is try to facilitate that and keep a positive outlook on everything.”

Between the pandemic and the damage, there is still no real plan for a return to the NDCC offices, Kitner said. “We’re still trying to figure out what we will do in the long term.”

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, Digital Editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Education Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the News Leaders Association, the News Product Alliance, and the Online News Association. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at [email protected].

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