Years Of Neglect Left Southern Dallas County Behind, But A Renewed Focus Could Lift It Up
In late March, DRC launched SouthernDallasCounty.com, an online resource that seeks to spark investment south of Interstate 30. The effort was followed by an April 27 vote by Dallas City Council that set into motion $1.5B in funding for massive renovations at Fair Park and the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, two projects expected to advance the work of the chamber.
“The one thing we must do is focus our efforts on Southern Dallas,” Council Member Cara Mendelsohn said prior to the vote “The city can’t continue moving forward while leaving Southern Dallas behind. We must end the racial and financial segregation in our city.”
DRC leaders believe that creating more jobs is key to the region’s long-term economic success. The chamber’s efforts are centered not only on promoting the area’s benefits but also rewriting the narrative around Southern Dallas County, said Latosha Herron Bruff, senior vice president of community engagement.
“All of this is part of a larger strategy around how do we see Southern Dallas County differently — more than philanthropic, more than charity,” she said. “It’s really about growth and what kind of investment we can spur.”
The chamber is leveraging SouthernDallasCounty.com as a data source for companies looking to set up shop in the region. The site shows there are about 138,000 manufacturing workers within a 45-minute drive of the Inland Port, and 554,000 managerial and back-office support workers living within the same distance of Interstate 35 and Highway 67.
“If you're a business and you're looking to expand your footprint into the market, whether you're here locally or you are on the West Coast or the East Coast, Southern Dallas County makes sense because there is a pipeline of talented workers that already exists there,” Herron Bruff said.
Despite the immense pipeline of workers, the vast majority of residents currently leave Southern Dallas County to drive north for work, DRC data shows. By locating closer to where people live, companies have a competitive edge in hiring and retention, said Duane Dankesreiter, senior vice president of research and innovation at the DRC.
“People living in Southern Dallas County are passing potential job sites and locations,” he said. “As an employer, if you can be closer to where people live, you can help solve some of the attrition issues that everyone is facing.”
The Inland Port, 76K acres located east of I-35 between interstates 20 and 45, has become increasingly desirable in recent years as DFW’s industrial market grows. Some of the major employers with distribution facilities in the area include Amazon, FedEx, Kohl’s and Procter & Gamble.
“It’s a really attractive spot for companies right now because of the crossroads of transportation, plus, Union Pacific has a large intermodal facility there, so there are lots of goods flowing in and out of the area,” Dankesreiter said. “It’s got available land, so you can put big warehouses and big manufacturing operations within the Inland Port area.”
One initiative that helped raise the Inland Port’s profile was the 2019 creation of a Transportation Management Association, which brought more transit options to the area. Employees who work in the Inland Port can get there by light rail or bus, but they also have access to shuttle services for transport from the station to job sites.
“As companies were looking at Southern Dallas County, particularly the Inland Port area, getting workers to those jobs was important,” Dankesreiter said.
The $200M RedBird Mall redevelopment project, led by co-developers Terrence Maiden and Peter Brodsky, is expected to generate 3,500 jobs in South Dallas upon completion in 2025. Rather than focusing solely on retail, the project sought to address pressing needs in the area, such as quality housing, diversity of healthcare, and access to food and jobs.
“RedBird was originally a very affluent area, and over time, investment stopped happening in the corridor,” Maiden said. “Our strategy has been centered around providing quality amenities the community can benefit from.”
A significant amount of construction is underway at the RedBird site, Maiden said, which includes a solid mix of office, healthcare, retail, entertainment and housing. Crews are nearing completion on $30M worth of infrastructure improvements, and Parkland Hospital’s RedBird Health Center recently opened. A building that will house a joint pediatric venture by UT Southwestern and Children’s Health is expected to open in July, Maiden said.
“Our north star … is encouraging other developers and investors to seriously look at Southern Dallas as a true investment opportunity,” he said. “What we have been able to do is strategically put together a plan that gives a great return to our investors but also meets a deep social need.”
Development in Southern Dallas County has picked up in recent months. In January, Niagara Bottling Co. announced plans to invest $70M in a new manufacturing plant in Lancaster, and in early April, Cedar Hill City Council approved an agreement with Pratt Industries Inc. to locate a regional manufacturing and innovation center at High Point 67 logistics center. That project is expected to bring more than $200M in equipment, inventory and building improvements to the master-planned industrial park.
Despite these wins, many stakeholders say investment in Southern Dallas County is long overdue. Data from the chamber shows that while 40% of the population lives in the region, it comprises only 20% of the county’s property tax base, a statistic that underscores a failure to encourage equitable investment in historically underserved areas.
One company that is looking to right that wrong is Regions Bank. Tyrus Sanders, the business’ Dallas market executive for commercial banking, said instead of following the trend of northbound investment, his goal of growing the Regions’ presence in DFW led him to Southern Dallas County.
“If the region is going to continue to grow, the opportunity is in the southern sector,” he said. “You have to think about where the basketball is going to go, not where it is.”
The bank recently provided a $10M line of credit to help with Fair Park’s capital campaign, and it made a $1M equity investment in the Texas Mezzanine Fund, a Dallas-based community development financial institution that enhances distressed and underserved communities across Texas by financing businesses and economic development projects.
Regions also partnered with James Armstrong III of Builders of Hope, a nonprofit that develops affordable housing in Dallas’ urban communities, to assist with land banking, or aggregating pieces of land in Southern Dallas County for eventual development.
“We’re going to provide him with a line of credit so he can buy lots from the city that are part of the land bank so he can have inventory to do infill housing,” Sanders said. “Before that, he didn’t have a facility to buy a bulk number of lots to build on, he had to do one piece at a time.”
Housing disparities are well-documented in Dallas, especially among communities of color. A November report by Spectrum Local News showed that while Black households in Dallas represent about 25% of those living in the city, they own only 7% of housing wealth. In an attempt to reverse this trend, Dallas City Council approved 11 recommendations April 27 aimed at embedding racial equity into the city’s comprehensive housing policy, a move that is expected to generate higher levels of homeownership and housing development activity in the southern sector.
“If we want to level the playing field, it’s not about spreading around resources equally,” Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Jamie Resendez said prior to the vote. “We need significant financial investment focused on infrastructure and addressing opportunity gaps in Southern Dallas, a place that has been historically neglected.”
This effort, along with support by city council for funding renovations at the convention center and Fair Park, are harbingers for the growth that is still to come in Southern Dallas County, Herron Bruff said.
“[These projects are] going to be great connectors to a community that has been historically cut off,” she said. “There’s great potential there.”