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Downtown Dallas, You've Come A Long Way, Baby!

CBRE Senior Vice President Jack Gosnell remembers a time when touring Downtown Dallas seemed like emotional torture for commercial real estate brokers.

Thirty years ago, Downtown Dallas was in a state of flux after finishing a vibrant period in the '70s and '80s that brought iconic glass skyscrapers into the community.  

What remained after that period was a beautiful city with limited daytime traffic and a bit of a lost city vibe. 

Downtown Dallas' Kourtny Garrett with Amli Development's Taylor Bowen, Todd Interests' Philip Todd, Basharkhah Engineering's Sam Basharkhah, Dunhill Partners' Andy Crosland and CBRE's Jack Gosnell

Gosnell's discomfort with Downtown Dallas changed in the early 1990s when he braved the city's inner loop, looking for diamonds in the rough. He found some, but it took years to get the inner city momentum going. 

“In 1991, I was reading a ULI article, and it talked about the 10 elements that were required for a city to be a world-class city,” Gosnell said.

Although he doesn't recall the first nine elements of what he read 30 years ago, Gosnell does remember the most important trait on the list. 

“The 10th one was you have to have a vibrant inner city: a vibrant downtown,” Gosnell said. “At that point, I had been working Uptown and points north, and I never considered much of Downtown. I took three months and did runs through Downtown, which was really depressing.”

Gosnell found storefronts Downtown boarded up in 1991. Every retailer had left, except for mainstay Neiman Marcus, Gosenell said at Bisnow's The Future of Downtown Dallas event. 

By 1996, only 200 residents lived within the freeway loop surrounding the Downtown area, according to Downtown Dallas Inc. President and CEO Kourtny Garrett

Gosnell and Garrett over the years became Downtown's biggest advocates, but it would take decades for the area to get its groove back.

Fast-forward to today, and it seems almost impossible to keep the investment and development dollars from surging into the urban core.  

“Over the last 20 years, we have seen over $7B of investment and $4B more is happening right now ... you can see the cranes all around us,” Garrett said. “That is $4B of active private development.”

When AT&T had the choice to move out of Downtown Dallas a few years back, it decided to remain. The company, which had been Downtown for 12 years, decided to engage in placemaking, building out the AT&T Discovery District, which is about to come fully to life. 

The AT&T tech-infused corporate destination, designed in large part by Gensler, offers a beer garden, food options, larger-than-life media outside, a retail site and plenty of space to turn AT&T's hub into a destination for employees and visitors alike. 

It wasn't difficult for AT&T to remain in place. 

“As we started to talk to our employees, especially our young professionals, it became very clear that our folks liked living and working in an urban core,” AT&T Vice President of External Affairs Mike Peterson said. “We figured by staying in this location, it would distinguish us from our competitors.”

The city spent the past 20 years building housing traction, and it is really taking hold. Today, 12,000 people live within Downtown's freeway loop and more population growth is anticipated, according to Garrett. 

“In a 2.5-mile radius, which includes some of our connected districts like the Design District, we have 75,000 people living in, and another 12,000 units under construction, so that growth trajectory is still very aggressive,” she said. 

AMLI Residential is building a 45-story luxury residential tower in the heart of Downtown Dallas, a sign of confidence in the urban core for years to come. 

“It was all of the cool development and the things that started to really create the fabric of Downtown that enabled us to say ‘this is it, we want to plant a big flag and be here for a long time,’” AMLI Development President Taylor Bowen said.