For Shavonn Whiten, a Texas A&M doctoral student in her final semester, completing her dissertation required support from her family, faith community and academic colleagues. The process also, she said, received boosts from her morning yoga community, a coffee shop to "sweeten up" the writing process and a restaurant with an outdoor fireplace at which she became a regular.
The coffee shop, yoga cohort and dinner spot Whiten described are all within walking distance of her apartment. Whiten lives in the Lake Walk/ATLAS/Traditions area, a fast-growing master-planned community described by its principal director as "a city within a city."
The 1,000-acre area, which is often referred to colloquially as either "Lake Walk" or "Traditions," includes Lake Walk, the town center that includes the Stella Hotel; ATLAS, a 200-acre corporate campus home to four internationally active companies; and Traditions Club and Community, a private residential and golf development.
"Over the past year, living in the Traditions/Lake Walk community has provided a quiet escape from the business of Aggieland and campus," Whiten said. She said the variety of options offered to her so close to home helped her feel grounded as she worked to complete her dissertation and degree.
The community is about 5.5 miles south of Downtown Bryan and about four miles west of the heart of the Texas A&M campus, just north of Texas 47.
Spencer Clements, the area's principal, called the development of the community a response to the potential for the Bryan-College Station area. "It's not just a college town anymore," he said.
"Over the years, as the population has grown, it's still very much about the students, and of course A&M is still the driving economic force, but all of a sudden there's a metropolis of [nearly] 250,000 people," Clements said. Brazos County's most recent population estimates put the county between 222,000 and 230,000 people.
Clements said the 176-room, six-story Stella, as well as the George Hotel, Embassy Suites and the Doug Pitcock '49 Texas A&M Hotel and Conference Center, comprise a new wave of full-service hotels that help bring in "an entirely new segment of traveler, as well as group businesses," he said. The Stella opened in 2017.
Clements said the hotel has a limited amount of maroon in its décor, because the goal is to appeal to Aggies as well as business travelers and others without ties to the university. A notable exception is the first-floor bar Hershel's, named after Hershel Burgess, who played running back during A&M's undefeated 1927 season.
"Nobody had really planted their flag and said, 'Let's build the region's newest, best hotel," Clements said. "We really think that as a city, we're equipped now to handle larger associations, larger conferences. They can drive in from Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin. We're a central market," he said.
The Coterie Boutique, which opened in February and is part of the Lake Walk Town Center, embodies the community's commitment to fulfill the needs of the area's non-undergraduate population, according to Clements. Described on its website as the story of two friends who created the shopping experience they wished they could find, Coterie's fashion offerings are tailored toward women in their late 20s to 60s and beyond, co-founder Jackie Bullard said. The boutique also features accessories, shoes, furniture and lighting.
Bullard said she and interior designer Jenny Tamplin were new to running a business and wanted the store to offer something for the growing number of non-students in the Bryan-College Station area.
"We both love fashion and thought we'd give it a try. It's going really well," Bullard said, just moments before greeting a group of customers.
David Segers, the community's lead financial officer, said he and Clements gained ownership of the Traditions Club about 10 years ago.
"It was basically a residential and golf community," Segers said of Traditions, which remains the home of the Texas A&M women's and men's golf teams. "Over the years, we had some success in the residential real estate side, and there was growth on this side of town for the commercial opportunities that have since grown."
Segers said the Texas A&M System had success engaging different segments of the biotech industry, which also contributed to the community's development potential. Segers and Clements have known each other since their northwest Houston adolescence, they said, and both graduated from Texas A&M in the mid-1980s. The two men are lead executives at William Cole Companies, the company running the community. Clements founded the company.
Clements said that the long-term plan is to have more than 2,000 residential units in the Lake Walk/Traditions community. As of this summer, there are 261 units in the Traditions Club Broadstone luxury complex. There are also 95 condominium units, with another 155 on the way, he said.
Hawthorne, a market-rate multifamily community marketed toward professionals, currently has 396 units. Clements and Segers said many Hawthorne residents work at one of the companies on the ATLAS corporate campus.
ATLAS is the home of Fujifilm Diosnyth Biotechnologies' Texas campus; iBio, a major plant-based vaccine manufacturing facility; Nutrabolt; a company focused on performance lifestyle products and sports nutrition; and ViaSat's Texas campus. ViaSat is a global technology company.
"ViaSat came to us and said 'We want to be as close to that hotel as possible,' " Clements said, referring to the Stella. Clements said the ability to offer market-value places for young engineers and other professionals to live close to their employers has proven an effective recruiting pitch.
For people over 55, Parc at Traditions features 159 senior-living apartments, with 91 designed for individual living, 44 for assisted living and 24 as memory care units. Right around the corner, the CHI St. Joseph Health MatureWell Lifestyle Center provides health and wellness services to adults 55 and over, including Parc residents.
The 23,000-square-foot MatureWell center has a partnership with the Texas A&M University Health Science Center, which means Parc residents have access to multiple health and wellness opportunities, Segers said.
Among the community amenities frequented by Whiten include its Saturday 8 a.m. lakeside yoga offering, one of the Lake Walk Pavilion's numerous programs. Lake Walk also hosts The Local, a weekly artisan market featuring a variety of items including produce, baked goods and home décor. Clements said Tuesday's edition of the event drew approximately 500 people, a leap forward from the 150 to 200 people the market averaged in 2017. It runs every Tuesday from 4 to 7 p.m.
Other public offerings have included a summer concert series and a number of late-night star-watching parties on Lookout Tower, a 75-foot galvanized steel tower with a 336-square-foot observation deck.
The tower is next to Lake Atlas, which serves as the epicenter of the planned community.
Whiten said she regularly eats at and gets into conversations with fellow patrons at Campfire, the indoor-outdoor restaurant on the ground floor of the Stella Hotel, which was completed in 2017. The P.O.V. coffee shop, she said, was one of her primary dissertation writing spots. Clements and Segers said it is also a popular spot for medical students to study.
"Because we're in a public-private partnership with [the] city of Bryan, it allowed us to be patient," Clements said of the planned community. "It allowed us to think longer term and think about a legacy. We really see ourselves as caretakers and stewards of this place. The university is expanding right through us out to the RELLIS campus. The Health Science Center is adjacent to us.
"Strategically on a map, this is about as important of a thousand acres as you have in this area. We can make our own town with it, and try to shape it so it will last for a really long time."