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Rebuilding Deep Ellum: New Types Of Tenants The Latest To Discover 'The Best Kept Secret In Dallas'

Attracting professional firms en masse to Deep Ellum would be a major transition from how the area functioned in the past century. One office development, The Epic office tower at the foot of Deep Ellum, is attempting to pave the way. 

Deep Ellum Foundation Executive Director Stephanie Hudiburg, Gordan Highlander President Greg Gordan, VP of KDC Bill Guthrey, Asana Partners Managing Director Brian Purcell and Milkshake Concepts CEO Imran Sheikh at Bisnow's Deep Ellum event March 2019

An empty floor of Westdale’s The Epic office tower — just weeks away from welcoming its first tenants — hosted a Bisnow event Wednesday where developers, community advocates and investors shared their visions for Deep Ellum’s future. 

The 16-story office tower, which has already secured coworking firm Spaces as a tenant, is now considered a gateway to Deep Ellum given its strategic location at the foot of Good-Latimar Expressway and Pearl Street on the east side of Dallas. It is also a blueprint for pulling new types of tenants into the neighborhood.

“Work and corporations are going to be choosing this environment and energy,” KDC Senior Vice President Bill Guthrey said. KDC teamed up with Westdale to develop the property. “Folks are looking for authenticity. The workplace is becoming a whole lot more comfortable.”

Guthrey said that, in its infancy, The Epic office tower is already getting attention from law firms and tech firms as potential tenants.

Pulling in law firms or corporate tenants would change the conventions of a community that has already rebuilt itself more than once. 

What started as an inspirational, free community for African-American commercial trade during segregation turned into a neighborhood lined with bars and popular music hangouts in the 1980s and 1990s. After the early aughts, Deep Ellum went dark for a while as well-known '90s destinations closed their doors and started reemerging around 2009-10. 

At times, Deep Ellum had a seedy side. Other times, it was considered quirky and hip, an acutely recreational escape from the typical Dallas mindset. 

While all of Bisnow’s panelists predict more robust commercial development to accommodate new residents and office tenants in Deep Ellum, they remain laser-focused on preserving the community’s artsy, bohemian vibe.

“We need to do right by Deep Ellum,” Asana Partners Managing Director Brian Purcell said.

Purcell, who is on the investment side of Deep Ellum projects, is focused on elevating the area’s food and beverage lineup without destroying the authenticity of the neighborhood.

“We don’t think Deep Ellum is the place where we need to show up and force a national [retail/restaurant] tenant,” Purcell said. “We are trying to reposition the existing buildings that we acquired and in a way that respects the culture of the neighborhood.”

Asana has been one of the more active players in Deep Ellum — the investment company has acquired 44 buildings in the area.

In the past 18 months or so, occupancy rates within Asana's Deep Ellum portfolio reached the 80% to 90% range, up from 50% occupancy when the firm first acquired the buildings, Purcell said.  

Milkshake Concepts CEO Imran Sheikh

Milkshake Concepts, a hospitality firm that launches hip and engaging restaurants, is another satisfied Deep Ellum dweller. CEO Imran Sheikh immediately seized the opportunity to open restaurant concepts in the community 10 years ago when he was somewhat alone in his bet on Deep Ellum.

Investors predicted Milkshake Concepts would only pull in half of its performance metrics in Deep Ellum, but the company doubled those estimates, Sheikh said.

“We have felt fully vindicated in our decision to come down to Deep Ellum," he said. “Sales exist down here. We know that. We have proven that.”

And Milkshake Concepts is not finished with Deep Ellum. The experimental restaurant company plans to expand its footprint there within the next 18 months. 

Allen Morris Co.'s W. Allen Morris and Spencer Morris

For Purcell, who has already watched Asana’s occupancy rates rise on its Deep Ellum properties, the area’s infrastructure and cultural effects could eventually be developed into a concept that challenges marquee neighborhoods across the U.S.

“I don’t know why Deep Ellum cannot be one of the best neighborhood, urban environments in the country,” Purcell said.

Attracting the eye of developers with national experience in building off existing neighborhood platforms may not be that difficult in Deep Ellum.

Legendary real estate developer W. Allen Morris with the Allen Morris Co. is known for transforming communities, like Brickell Avenue in Miami, into assets for the entire community.

“We look for sites like Deep Ellum, which it’s obvious now is the best kept secret in Dallas,” Morris said. “We look for areas that have a quality of cool about them that we feel have not really been discovered or have only started to become discovered.”