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Brick By Brick: Historic West End Enters New Era Of Growth

Few places in DFW are more steeped in history than Downtown DallasWest End. Its brick-clad walls have borne witness to the JFK assassination, the renovation of the historic Purse Building and the shuttering of the iconic Spaghetti Warehouse. Activity in the district has ebbed and flowed, but as of late interest in the area has picked up, in large part due to a team of impassioned individuals looking to restore the West End to its former glory.

The West End is a historic area of Downtown Dallas that is home to Dealey Plaza, the Purse Building and other iconic structures.

“The West End is finally starting to find its place, and I attribute that to a lot of the young people, the growth in density and the increase in residents moving downtown,” said Tanya Ragan, president of Wildcat Management, one of the largest property owners in the district. “To them, the West End is different from our parents’ and grandparents’ West End.” 

The historic West End District, a 55-acre area made up of museums, office and residential buildings, restaurants and retail, was having an identity crisis in the years leading up to the pandemic, Ragan said. The West End Association, a group committed to improving the economic and business health of the district, was in the middle of a rebranding effort that shifted in early 2020 to focus on creating an authentic neighborhood experience. Ragan, who is the former chairman of the association, said this move saved the district from losing momentum during the crisis.

“Pre-pandemic, the West End, in my opinion, was falling behind Uptown, Deep Ellum, even the Design District and other areas that were thriving,” she said. “What happened during the pandemic is some of those other neighborhoods really shut down. We used that time to reorganize.”

Prior to the pandemic, the West End Association was made up of two branches, property owners and business owners, that operated independently of each other. The reorganization merged these two groups.

“In order for us to thrive and come out of the pandemic in a better place, we needed to bring everybody together,” she said. “When we brought everyone together, we were able to get the buyoff to raise almost $400K in operating capital.”

Ragan said this money paid for a slew of neighborhood improvements, a dedicated Public Safety program and the hiring of Phillip G. Honoré, the association’s first full-time, paid employee. This was a significant move for the WEA, which had existed as a volunteer-run group for more than 50 years. 

“As the neighborhood grew, [running the association] became an insurmountable task,” Honoré said. “They realized they needed someone to be an advocate full time.”

Phillip G. Honoré is the West End Association's first full-time, paid employee.

When Honoré was hired in November 2020, the WEA had seven active members. Today, it has 36. Honoré, who came to the West End from the Deep Ellum Foundation, said his job is to shepherd growth in the district by promoting local businesses, overseeing public safety and working with the West End’s representatives on city council to push through neighborhood improvements.

“The last two years, Dallas has seen so much growth, and there’s so much opportunity here,” he said. “Everything I’ve heard from property owners and those who want to invest, Dallas is an untapped metropolitan city that everyone wants to come to. You’re starting to see that migration, and the West End is a beneficiary of that North Texas boom.”

The WEA’s work in the area has proven fruitful. A heavy focus on promoting local businesses during the pandemic as well as the March 2021 opening of West End Square — a WiFi-enabled park in the center of the district — led to an influx of visitors from nearby areas of downtown, Ragan said.

“In the past, we had a really difficult time getting people from the downtown core and especially our neighbors near Victory and American Airlines,” she said. “Through the ‘Support Local’ push, all of the sudden our residential population and neighbors started moving around and coming to the West End.”

Activity in the area has picked up in recent years, some catalyzed by the investment. Ragan’s company, Wildcat Management, oversaw the $12M redevelopment of the 65K SF Purse Building, which sat empty for 30 years and reopened in its latest form in 2020. Crescent Real Estate LLC sold the Awalt Building on Market Street in October to Denver-based Koelbel & Co. 3L Real Estate, based in Chicago, announced in December that it would convert an office building at 501 Elm St. to a residential tower. Also in December, Lerma Advertising announced it would lease 28K SF of office space in the Luminary building.

“This area has so much opportunity,” she said. “It has a cool factor because of the historic district that really doesn’t exist anywhere else.”

The Purse Building had been vacant for 30 years before Wildcat Management invested $12M to redevelop the building into an office tower.

Growing the West End’s resident base is an area of opportunity for the district, Ragan said. The district is home to about 1,800 people, Honoré said, and he hopes to convince more of those residents to join the association.

“Over these last two years, a lot of people have migrated away from the city and downtown,” he said. “We are starting to see growth come back. I want to see residents involved because they live, work and play here.”

Honoré said his association’s relationship with the developers like Ragan is essential to the district’s future growth, which shows no sign of slowing as more businesses move downtown. According to Ragan, office rental rates in the West End are around $24 per SF, a fraction of the cost compared to neighboring areas like Uptown, where rental rates range from $40 to $50 per SF. This should continue to catalyze development moving forward.

“We have plenty of parking, dedicated public safety, and then you come look at the product and it seems too good to be true — but it’s not,” she said.