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Pushing The New Momentum In Downtown Dallas Development

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Two decades ago, Downtown Dallas had 40 vacant buildings, a huge hurdle to lasting vibrancy. Now those buildings are off the market, and Downtown is ready to take the next step toward revitalization.

The Statler
The Statler

City leaders want to take the successful real estate activity that rings Downtown’s core — The Epic in Deep Ellum, Factory Six03 in the West End, Hall Arts in the Arts District — and create a momentum that will crack the code on an active downtown and spur new construction.

Dallas has plenty of raw material for that. A CommercialCafé report in May said Dallas has some of the country's greatest urban infill opportunities, with 86.3 acres of empty land to develop. That is even after Downtown has added a staggering 8.5M SF of developed property to its core in the last five years, second only to New York City in terms of central business district activity, according to CommercialCafé.

It is a good start for an active downtown for Dallas, where the population has grown from 200 to about 11,000 over the last two decades. Downtown Dallas Inc. Chief Marketing Officer Shalissa Perry said taking those vacant buildings off the market was a good start to creating a truly active neighborhood.

“About 20 years ago, we had 40 empty buildings downtown," Perry said. “Downtown was truly only commercial office. It would roll up the sidewalks at 5:00 and, you know, people only came and went to work. During that period we probably only had 200 people downtown, if that."

As the 40 buildings came off the market, many were converted to residential use: The Statler, The Davis and soon The Drever. Once you have a small village of residents, neighborhood demands begin to surface: the need for a good grocery store, active streets at night, the chance to walk to entertainment venues and retail options.

JLL South-Central Region President Brad Selner talked about the decade evolution at Bisnow's Future of Downtown event in February.

Ten years ago, we wouldn’t have been having this conversation. We didn’t have the choice of lifestyle to live [in] this urban environment in Dallas," Selner said. "It just didn’t exist, and so it’s so cool, from a market maturity standpoint, watching little Dallas grow to a level that now you have a choice." 

1401 Elm project
Rendering of 1401 Elm, The Drever

The road to Downtown Dallas development has not been easy. Savills Studley Executive Managing Director Frank McCafferty said '80s construction was not necessarily conducive to current office design, a problem that has kept downtown office rents artificially low and stymied Downtown growth for a long time.

But then some began to see the potential in Downtown Dallas, especially as Houston saw success with its own downtown redevelopment. Dallas projects began to land — the Statler-Hilton deal in 2014, the ambitious reuse of the Dallas High School in 2016 and even the recent $100M commitment to revamp the plaza at the AT&T campus — and signaled a renewed commitment to downtown Dallas that began with the success of the 74-acre Victory Park.

So the Dallas City Council got itself a plan. Downtown Dallas' 360 Plan — drafted in 2011 and updated in 2017 — is a comprehensive vision of an interconnected city center, ringing with catalytic development areas: Western Farmers Market, High-Speed Rail Station Area, Northern West Edge, Carpenter Park and the Arts District. The plan incorporates rail improvements, bike lanes and green space. 

"The plan talks about Downtown Dallas as a complete neighborhood," Perry said. "So, what kind of housing stock do we want? What is the pricing, and how do we ensure that our workforce is able to live downtown as well as anybody else? We're looking at infill and retail and services."

Pushing The New Momentum In Downtown Dallas Development
One AT&T Plaza in Dallas

With the majority of empty real estate addressed in Downtown Dallas, the issue has become what to do to create a thriving community. The goal is to keep downtown walkable and connected, which is a question of both development and mobility, Perry said. And it is also a question of a downtown culture.

"I gave a presentation this morning to a group, and I asked, 'How many of you have been to such-and-such restaurant up on Main Street, and not one hand went up," Perry said. "I said, 'It's just a six-minute walk from here.' And they were like, 'Really?' People get in their bubble and they don't realize how close everything is."

McCafferty agrees that downtown Dallas can be, and should be, one neighborhood. And he has predictions about what the next step will be, and that it will happen exactly because Downtown Dallas is a place with vacant land poised for redevelopment.

"In my view, the next area of development will be big corporate relocations starting to happen on the edge of the CBD, and it will happen with new, modern, efficient office buildings," McCafferty said. "Uptown is built out aside from a couple of areas where you can do a building or two, but you're not going to have what you can downtown. You're not going to be able to add millions of square feet."