Redevelopment projects go from bust to boom
12:08 PM CST on Saturday, January 15, 2005
By DAVID FLICK / The Dallas Morning News
There has been nothing like it in downtown Dallas for 20 years. After a period when progress on redevelopment seemed stalled, or at least invisible, the coming year will see at least 10 projects in various states of construction in the center city. Most of the projects will convert office buildings into residential and retail space. The DP&L and Interurban buildings will be ready for occupancy in the first half of the year, and city officials say they expect construction to begin or continue on the Republic Bank Tower, Gulf States Building, Fidelity Union Life Insurance building, the so-called Davis lot, the 1414 Elm St. building and the 1200 Main St. building.
In addition, work will proceed on the new hotel-retail complex at 1530 Main St. and the retail building at 1217 Main St. The last time we had so much construction going on downtown at one time was six years ago, and this is much larger than that," said Alice Murray, president of the Central Dallas Association. "I think it makes a big statement." Last week's edition of Downtown This Week, published by the CDA and the Downtown Improvement District, noted that the number of housing units downtown grew 747 percent between 1995 and 2005 – from 250 units (all of them in the venerable Manor House) to 1,867.
Within two years, that number is expected to more than double – to 4,309 residential units. And that figure may already be an underestimate. This month, 3J Development LLC of San Diego said it would convert the 33-story tower at 1600 Pacific Ave. into 370 residential units and has indicated it may have a similar announcement soon on the Praetorian Building. Even these projects could be dwarfed if negotiations with Forest City Enterprises of Cleveland produce a commitment to convert the mammoth Mercantile Bank complex into apartments and retail space.
There is much that remains to be done before downtown is transformed. Interest among retailers is picking up but is still in the early stages. Overall property values have yet to show a significant increase. Still, the sudden flurry of construction has resulted in a renewed feeling of optimism among downtown supporters, who throughout much of last year seemed to be keeping one another's spirits up. "We're starting to get the pieces together to be a real neighborhood," said Don Raines Jr., president of the Downtown Residents Council. "I think that it's becoming a pretty good success story." Could it prove to be too much at once? Right now, the people with a financial stake in the outcome say not. Joe Sapp, president of 3J Development, said he has no qualms about creating residential units at 1600 Pacific so close to the 500 units that developers Ted and Larry Hamilton are planning in the old Fidelity Union building.
"It's like an intersection where you have a Wal-Mart on one corner and Home Depot on the other. They don't so much compete with each other as bring more people in," Mr. Sapp said. Ted Hamilton agrees. "I think we're still at the point where additional projects would be synergistic rather than competitive," he said. "Even something as large as the Mercantile, I think, would so change the nature of that area and spark so much street life that it would not be competing." If there is a feeling of competitiveness between the two developers, it must not be too severe. Mr. Sapp has recently rented an apartment in the Davis Building. Mr. Hamilton, in other words, is his new landlord.
The one thing these projects have in common is that all have received city tax money to help get the development under way. The exception, to everyone's surprise, was Mr. Sapp's 1600 Pacific project, which was announced this month without any request being made for city funds. Yet. The first residential project that gets built without taxpayer money will mark a watershed – it will be an indication that the marketplace, and not just urban policy, sees downtown redevelopment as the wave of the future. But it is unclear whether the future is now. Mr. Sapp says merely that company officials are still making up their minds whether to ask for city funds.